The article Stories of Healing: My First Ketamine Therapy Experience was originally published on Microdose.
To share your personal stories of psychedelic therapy, submit to our “Healing” section here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What I remember most is the music. Psychedelic experiences tend to leave you with fragments — pieces of floating integration waiting to be more fully absorbed — and for my first ketamine therapy session it was the music that lingered most. I still use Shannon’s playlist as an unwinding soundtrack, the melodies evoking a mood my subconscious still marks as significant. ketamine psychedelic therapy
The setting. Imagine a cozy yoga or meditation studio condensed into someone’s living room — low seating, carpets, perhaps some tasteful mandala art — and me lying on a single bed, surrounded by comfy blankets and pillows, feeling like my mommy is about to come tuck me in.
The fact that it’s 3 pm on a sunny Miami afternoon only adds to the dreamish surrealism.
We’d just finished with Wonderland, psychedelic medicine’s premier industry event (shameless plug), and I’d come to do some experiential journalism. The Floresta team welcomed me into their ketamine-therapy group session, a kind of pop-up offering they’ve organized in conjunction with their attendance at Wonderland.
Ketamine, for the layman non-psychonaut, can sound a bit druggy. It evokes horse tranquilizer urban legends, and that friend of a friend who supposedly K-holed at a party in 2007. But fun fact, the FDA approved ketamine back in 1970 as an anesthetic (for humans), and in 2019 the agency cleared a ketamine compound as a treatment for depression. Fast forward to the current psychedelic renaissance and ketamine therapy is acting as test case and trailblazer for the future psychedelic medicine roll-out. Being an already FDA-approved drug, ketamine is now prescribed around the world to treat a variety of conditions, from depression to anxiety to addiction. There are currently over 100 ketamine clinics in the US alone, with countless more in the works.
I arrived by Uber to the cute bungalow in north Miami, underslept and not in top shape. Note: this is definitely NOT the recommended “set” for a psychedelic therapy session, but I’d been wanting to experience psychedelic medicine in a legal, therapeutic setting — so when the universe delivered the opportunity, I went for it.
I’d never taken ketamine, therapeutically or otherwise, and the hesitation and apprehension inherent with many psychedelic experiences was accentuated by it being my first time with this medicine. And so I walked in, nervous, head hurting, seeking support in my comfy shorts and trusty mushroom t-shirt.
Inside, I was greeted by an atmosphere of conscious chill. A houseful of cool roommates moving in unscripted unison, prepping food, doing the chores, and running a business that brings those in need on otherworldly journeys to heal their most cumbersome of inner burdens.
Floresta is part of a new wave of ketamine companies, focusing on retreats and more holistic offerings. The majority of ketamine clinics are just that, clinics. Sure there’s ambient music and IKEA psychedelic art, but many go the route of higher volume and less personal “ketamine mills” that groups like Floresta are trying to counterbalance (for example, a typical Floresta retreat might include 4 days in a peace-inducing retreat space, along with 3 ketamine sessions, integration circles, meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises).
Yet despite the relaxed atmosphere, never did it feel unprofessional. These are powerful medicines, after all, drugs used as surgical anesthetics being injected intramuscularly into your body. This younger generation of therapeutic professionals seems to be crafting new, multifaceted models of healing, bridging the clinical and the spiritual (a paradigm shift I’ve noticed throughout the industry).
And so I was welcomed warmly. Introduced to the Floresta team. To the other patients taking part in this group therapy session. I was shown my bed, walked through some preliminary logistics, and taken through the pre-dosing preparatory stages. Having already filled out the necessary paperwork, I then sat with Frankie — Floresta’s Nurse and Integration Facilitator — to discuss in more detail my medical history, frame of mind, and what will happen during the session. Then it was into the adjoining room to sit with Shannon Starr, Floresta founder and psychiatric nurse practitioner, to have a chat about why I was seeking treatment and ensure that I was a good candidate for the therapy.
Which brings us to the why. Why was I there, sitting with health professionals, ready to roll up my sleeves and receive an injection, hoping (somewhat low-key desperately) to improve my mental health.
“Sitting on my couch alone in my apartment. The negative thoughts that normally linger around our emotional peripheries had begun to take up too much space and I was tired of it. In some distorted attempt at comfort, I had given my fears too much permission, too much access. I had become someone whose default was no longer joy and this made me something worse than sad. Disappointed. Exhausted. Sitting there on my couch I finally spilled wide open and what vomited out, what was expelled, was neither laugh nor cry but a pleading dressed as release.”
An excerpt from an essay I wrote about mental health and my place on its spectrum, inspired by Joaquin Phoenix and his movie Joker.
This was around the time I first started microdosing for my mental health. Things were fine enough on the surface, but the ambient low-level anxiety that colored much of my adult life had begun to reach a worrisome level. Was it catalyzed by my little sister being sick? That probably didn’t help. But this cycle had been building for a while and my unhealthy habits of thought had switched from sorta obsessive and Seinfeld-humorous — to something that really didn’t feel right. Things had started to cross a line, and I was concerned.
So what was going on? A story both uniquely my own and oh so very common.
A child of divorce forced to deal with a less-than-ideal home life. All the subsequent tensions and insecurities that lay the foundation for how you see the world, process relationships, seek to gain some control.
A parent from another world, another time. So bereft of the tools to handle their own emotions and anxieties and aggressions that they spewed out everywhere, onto everyone. Second-hand emissions absorbed and internalized and made part of you.
Generational trauma. Raised by Holocaust survivors. Ancestors’ clenched fists and grinding teeth and sense of looming unknown. Sadness and grief buried and transformed, not into anger, but an inherited resistance to simple, instinctive joy.
Why had I come?
I wanted to be lighter.
So there I lay, journal at my side, eye mask and earphones ready. Asha, another of Floresta’s angelic facilitators, finished off some final instructions and guided intention-setting, offering us a chance for some supplementary pre-session preparation and post-therapy support.
Shannon and I had decided on 50 milligrams — a moderate dose for someone my size. The team eventually made their way to my bedside and, with care and grace, delivered my injection.
Now what most people want to know is: How was it? Did it work?
The short answer: It was pretty awesome. Or at least it has the potential to be.
What I’ve learned from my few forays into therapeutic psychedelic journeys is that my internal defenses are pretty freaking strong (stubborn). During my one ayahuasca ceremony, I sat there for hours waiting for something to happen while the rest of the participants went through various stages of emotional exorcisms (eventually I did purge and get some rebirth-like clarity that I can still access today, but there was no big journey for me). And my other attempts at personal mushroom ceremonies always ended with me battling myself and stalling the trip’s full departure.
In some ironic catch-22, my lack of lightness and need for control was stopping me from relinquishing control and getting lighter.
But there was the music. And it did, along with the medicine, show me ketamine’s healing potential.
Synesthesia began to paint music into images, slow-moving kaleidoscopes that didn’t so much take me away as color the evolving landscape. My controls were still there, keeping me in the room, considering the group’s social dynamics, wondering if I looked stupid lying there. But slowly, with time, I let go; or, more accurately, the medicine brought me to a place where I no longer needed to hold on.
Was I cured? No. Unfortunately, that’s not how this works. But something was learned. Neurally. Noetically. And I can still access it. Remember it. Bring this reminder into my internal routine; replacing outdated, unnecessary patterns.
Ketamine, in my brief experience, seems softer than other psychedelics. While ayahuasca can be a loving yet sometimes severe grandmother forcing you to confront whatever inner turmoils need to be dealt with — ketamine simply took me down a notch, helping me relax, relinquish, relent.
Which is what I needed. Some help chilling the fuck out.
The combination of first-time apprehension, poor personal preparation, and moderate dose, seems to have stopped me from having a more profound experience. But maybe that’s just what someone like me needed. An easy first date, a gentle introduction. Leaving me more comfortable to go deeper the next time.
I’m glad I did it. And look forward to where the next session might bring me.