Inside every person, no matter where they are in their journey, is an inextinguishable light with the capability for a full human life. Adam and Kate welcome Reid Robison, chief medical officer with Novamind, to the show. Together, they explore the exciting possibilities available today with the safe, legal access and use of psychedelics. Learn more about how difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, underserved by traditional medicine, are being looked at in a whole new way.
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Dr. Reid Robison is a board-certified psychiatrist, clinical researcher, psychedelic scientist, social entrepreneur, and yoga and meditation teacher. He is the co-founder and medical director of Cedar Psychedelic and a founding board member at the Utah-based, nonprofit Psychedelic Institute. In this podcast excerpt, he discusses the power of alternative medicine, psychedelics in the mental health space, and how he started working with psychedelics.
AN: We’re excited to be here with Dr. Reid Robison. How did you get into psychedelics in the first place?
RR: Good question. It was serendipitous. I finished my psychiatry residency training back in 2009. I stayed on faculty at the University of Utah, studying new medicines. I was on a quest to find new and improved treatments for mental health conditions and did a lot of studies on depression, bipolar, ADHD—all sorts of things. And I was getting more and more discouraged with the medicines coming down the pipeline that just left so many people suffering, until I discovered or came across ketamine. This is around the time that ketamine was gaining attention by the psychiatry community. There had been a couple of small studies showing that it has potential as a rapid and powerful antidepressant. It’s been around in anesthesia for awhile.
So, I got a grant to study it and did a clinical trial of it for Johnson and Johnson. I was just blown away, not only by its antidepressant capabilities but by the psychedelic properties it had and what we could do with that therapeutically. So that’s where my journey began, about 10 years ago.
KS: Where were you doing these trials, these clinical trials? Where were your patients from? Where were you doing this?
RR: I had left the university of Utah after a couple years on faculty there. I was getting impatient with how long it would take to get a grant or to get the ethics committee to approve a study. I left to start my own research center and was also doing consultations. I set up the psychiatry service there in Murray at Intermountain Medical Center, where I’d start the day in the ER and see anyone who had psychiatric concerns. Then I’d go up the hospital floors and do psych consults. It just so happened that that was the perfect place to give ketamine because I had all these very skilled doctors who knew ketamine well. I’d ask them, “This individual is extremely depressed. What do you think about this wild and crazy idea to give them a dose of ketamine for their depression?”
They’re like, “Of course, that’d be easy. We give it to kids in Primary Children’s Hospital to hold still before they get stitches. So we used it that way. And then I set up an infusion practice using ketamine in the cancer center. There were clients with severe depression who could come in once or twice a week or every month and get a treatment of ketamine. And then we’d supplement that with therapy in between. And it was game-changing for my clients and for my practice. It just unfolded from there in recent years to include other psychedelic medicines like Ayahuasca and MDMA psilocybin, for example.
KS: In what ways was it a game-changer for these patients?
RR: Traditional medications, not only worked slowly—it could take four to six weeks for something like Prozac or Zoloft to kick in—but it’s also like a coin toss, whether or not it will help someone. There’s this famous psychiatry study that looked at the response rate. And this is government funded, not pharma biased. What’s the response rate of a given antidepressant trial where they’d give one, and if that didn’t work, they’d give another. And if that didn’t work, they’d give another. And it was still after two or three trials with different antidepressants that only 50 to 60 percent would get better. Even then, most wouldn’t get all the way better. With depression being one of the leading causes of suffering and disability, that was just unacceptable. We needed new ways of helping people through this, and ketamine jumped out to me as a new approach to treating depression, where we don’t give a daily pill. We give someone a dose of something. We get them out of this state for even a brief period of time. Then we can do all the therapeutic work and help them get back on their feet without having to rely on a daily medicine.
KS: What I hear you saying is that some of these prescription medicines that maybe you are trying could take weeks or months to even find out if it was even working, and one dose of ketamine immediately was having an impact.
RR: Seventy percent of people respond after one dose of ketamine for their depression—even severe, treatment-resistant depression. It doesn’t last forever, but still that’s a pretty important tool for someone in crisis when other treatments have fallen short.
To learn more about Reid Robison and his work with psychedelics, visit novamind.ca.
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