PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Imagine having flashbacks and nightmares every time you hear fireworks or a car back-firing.
Sadness or feelings of inadequacy so debilitating you can’t get out of bed? Many of our neighbors don’t have to imagine, it’s their reality. They suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety.
But some are finding relief from an old drug being used as a new, alternative treatment.
“I was able to just go out into nature and feel like myself and have a greater appreciation for life,” said Lauren Mullinax, a ketamine therapy patient. Mullinax has post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
Bill Jordan suffers from severe depression. He says after trying it he “no longer runs from challenges, see challenges as opportunities.”
Both say they can now function normally because of ketamine. Ketamine was originally developed in Belgium in the 1960s as an animal anesthetic. But these days it’s being used more and more to treat humans suffering from psychological disorders.
“There’s a lot of research coming out, for treatment of depression, anxiety, and PTSD,” said Zohar Levites, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and CRNA with Florida Mind Health.
The FDA approved the use of ketamine for humans in 1970, as a battlefield anesthetic for wounded soldiers in Vietnam. Ironically doctors began using the term posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD in 1980 to describe the war’s psychological effects on Vietnam veterans.
“A lot of our veterans suffer from severe PTSD, depression, and anxiety. I’ve seen veterans who can’t get out of bed, who can barely function. And any little trigger will set them off,” said Kelle Logan, a CRNA with Florida Mind Health.
For several years, nurse anesthetists Levities and Logan have used ketamine to treat veterans and others suffering from psychological disorders.
“I see the success rate of the ketamine treatment about 90 to 95%. We’re pretty aggressive as a treatment. We have a lot of other options added to the ketamine that actually influence the treatment of depression,” Levites said.
Things like multiple vitamins, B-12, B-3, magnesium, and oxytocin.
So why aren’t all medical professionals using ketamine for their patients suffering from psychological disorders? Because in most cases, it is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating PTSD, anxiety, or depression.
There are a growing number of studies that indicate ketamine provides both short-term and long-term relief for those suffering from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. But some in the medical community have their concerns, like possible addiction and temporary side effects.
Ketamine is a schedule-3 controlled substance because it can have hallucinogenic effects.
“So how I explain treatments is morphine moments. So, you know you’re sitting in the chair. I’m normally listening to music, my favorite songs, and it’s almost like this roller coaster of thoughts and it takes you to a different place,” Jordan said. “It becomes a unique experience every time it’s different. And I know at one time I thought gee, I’d seen God and God told me that whatever you’re doing it’s not the right way. And he put that in my words, not his.”
The patient’s ketamine trip lasts about 2 hours.
“And it almost like wipes your slate so to speak, so that you can handle things in a different way,” Mullinax said.
Research shows ketamine has a significant effect on the brain receptors that cause psychological disorders. They also acknowledge its promising effects on treating depression, PTSD, and anxiety. They’re just not sure exactly how or why. What they do know is, for those who suffer from extreme depression and PTSD, a series of ketamine treatments, administered and monitored by medical professionals in a clinic setting, can change lives.
“Ketamine truly changes their lives and resets everything for them,” Logan said.
In troubled times Mullinax turned to music.
“I’m a singer/songwriter, born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. I have done a lot with my music. I’ve released on Spotify, iTunes,” Mullinax said. “I’ve had a little bit of a troubled past and that’s how I tend to cope with things.”
When Mullinax was 14-years-old, she got mixed up with the wrong person, a grown man she calls a predator.
“Human trafficking wasn’t really talked about back you know when I was being raised. It was almost unknown,” Mullinax said. “And he put me through mind games. and it wasn’t like he kidnapped me. It was more of this like really intense mind game and manipulative behaviors.”
Those behaviors included sex with him, other men and other women. Mullinax eventually escaped the relationship but the effects were devastating.
“I think I have always struggled with depression, but this added on PTSD for me,” she said. “And I’ve kinda gotten to the end of my rope, so to speak. And I needed to come to terms with, you know, myself and what has happened to me.”
For Bill Jordan, his demon was a self-imposed pressure to succeed.
“Depression for me was a lack of self-confidence,” he said. Jordan graduated college and joined the Navy to become a pilot. After 5 years he got out to become a stockbroker in Atlanta, but didn’t like it. So, he went to grad school for a degree in business administration.
Jordan became a certified public accountant, a professor at Florida State, published papers, and became an expert witness in corporate law cases.
“Take the CPA exam and I was 7th in the country, not because I tried to be good, I tried to be smart, take the examination well, but because I was so afraid of failing it.”
That fear of failure was all-consuming for Jordan.
“Vessel full of stones, that if you have a shiny outside, pretty mosaic, that people will notice that and not notice the rocks that are inside,” he said.
Jordan said he coped because of a lifetime of psychiatric care and self-understanding. But he and Mullinax both say ketamine therapy is the only thing that has given them a normal existence, a life.
“A lot of big institutions, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic doing a lot of research right now, a lot of publication and actually heading to the FDA for approval soon,” Levites said.
Ketamine itself is not expensive.
“What this cost is the time, it’s a third party, it’s a medical director and everything else,” Levites said. But for those suffering it can be their last resort.
“I felt life before was super unbearable just I couldn’t wake out of bed and I have like, I felt like so miserable in my life day-to-day. and then, like ever since coming to these ketamine treatments, I’ve, it’s like I’ve gotten a new way of seeing things. and I’m better able to cope with what life throws at me, cause life has been throwing quite a few things at me recently,” Mullinax said
“The negative, self-destructive thoughts are diminishing,” he said. “Eventually they’re gone, and they’re gone fairly quickly.”
It’s success stories like these that drive nurse anesthetists Levities and Logan to expand patient access to ketamine.
“Our veterans in the states deserve better care,” Logan said. “Especially our suicidal PTSD veterans. We can immediately help them and impact their lives and make their quality of life better.”
Levities just formed a non-profit organization to provide free ketamine treatment to veterans. He hopes to enlist as many as 400 other clinics across the nation to join him.
He and Logan operate two Florida mind health clinics, one in Gainesville and one in Tallahassee. They opened a new office last week here in Panama City.