Venice

Summer 2022

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As a boy who identified as gay at a young age and while being raised by his single mother in what he describes as "hyper-masculine Puerto Rico," it wasn't a signal event that led 38-year old Daniel (not his real name) to visit a pain specialist in 2019, but rather an accumulation of issues that began in his early life. Thoughout his childhood, Daniel experienced bullying so debilitating he took to hiding from his abusers in the girls' bathroom. He was also misdiagnosed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and was prescribed Ritalin and Adderall, which only made him feel worse. "It was such an unusual mix that I'd find myself with a lot of energy or falling asleep in the middle of anywhere," he recalls. "I really didn't like the way prescription drugs affected me." Daniel's misfortunes continued into adulthood. After striking up a relationship with a man he believed was "the one," that person turned abusive, eventually breaking Daniel's nose. A lengthy lawsuit followed, and Daniel fell into such a deep depression that he lost his job. "Since then," he says, "it's been incredibly difficult for me to trust anyone." Still, the Fort Lauderdale marketing professional was surprised three years ago when a doctor, during a routine checkup, suggested he visit a pain specialist. "I said, 'I'm not in any pain; why would I need to see a pain specialist?' And he said, 'Not all pain is physical pain. You could be experiencing mental or emotional pain.'" When he visited the pain clinic, Daniel says, "there were people who could barely walk and a lot of people in physical pain, and I felt I didn't belong there. But I wanted to give this a shot. When I spoke with this pain specialist, she said, 'I think you need some ketamine.' "I didn't grow up under a rock; I knew what ketamine was. I was really surprised she said that, because I thought ketamine was illegal, and because I never thought it would be something a doctor would prescribe." First synthesized in 1962, ketamine is primarily used to induce anesthesia before surgeries. But it also has hallucinogenic and dissociative properties that have shown great promise in treating pain and treatment-resistant depression, and since 1999 has been a legal Schedule III medication as classified by the United States Controlled Substances Act. At his physician's urging, Daniel began a two-week ketamine infusion program, spending three hours a day in her office, an IV attached to his arm and his favorite music (Air and LCD Soundsystem) pulsing from AirPods, in what he describes as "a very intense ketamine trip". Afterwards, somebody would have to pick me up. I had two nurses grab me by my arms on either side; my legs felt like they had huge cement blocks attached to them. But by the time I would get to my office I was completely of sound mind. Everyone around me began to see this incredible transformation in the way I was behaving, and the way I was responding to stressors." These days Daniel feels he has a handle in overcoming his past traumas and shares his experience in hope that he might be able to help someone else. "I've had over 10 friends ask me about this type of treatment, and now they've done it themselves." aniel's story of being transformed by the use of a hallucinogenic substance certainly isn't new. Plant-based medicines such as psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, have been used as a sacrament for indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America for hundreds of years. Psilocybin made its way into mainstream America in 1957 with the publication of R. Gordon Wasson's influential feature in Life magazine about "mushrooms that cause strange visions." Well into the 1960s, compounds from psilocybin to LSD (synthesized in 1938 by a Swiss chemist) were commonly used in psychotherapy to treat alcoholism, anxiety and depression. Their efficacy was so high that some people called them miracle drugs. It wasn't until the substances became synonymous with the counterculture that their medical progress acquiesced to a sense of moral panic. They became casualties of the War on Drugs. By the end of the 1960s, they were outlawed, and remain so. With the exception of ketamine, all psychedelic substances, from MDMA (aka Ecstasy) and DMT (a powerful hallucinogenic drug found in many plants and animals) to mescaline and peyote, are classified under Schedule I, meaning that the "drug is not safe to use, even under medical supervision." Yet many who have witnessed the curative effects of these compounds are confident that a psychedelic revolution is underway. Research institutions at Yale, New York University and the Imperial College of London have begun to study hallucinogenic medicine. In March of this year, Novamind, a mental health company focused on psychedelic medicine, entered Phase II of its clinical trial investigating psilocybin for depression, which afflicts 280 million people worldwide. Elsewhere, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has entered a Phase III clinical trial for MDMA to treat post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PHOTO BY KAIA ROMAN 96 venicemagftl.com Summer 2022

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