*This article is sponsored by HealingMaps.
So, you’re searching for a legal psychedelic experience. We have good news: despite the federal illegality of most classic psychedelics, psychedelic-assisted therapy experiences are increasingly more available—but they’re sometimes hard to find. Ketamine therapy and psilocybin services are becoming the two most accessible forms of psychedelic therapy. But there’s a caveat: they’re certainly not accessible everywhere, and finding the best places to go can be tricky.
Ketamine clinics have proliferated alongside the recent explosion of psychedelics research and its growing acceptance in the public eye. Today, an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 ketamine clinics operate in the US alone. But with all the hype, it’s often difficult to gauge how reputable or right a clinic or retreat is for you. Finding a psilocybin service center can be even more challenging. Psilocybin service centers were recently legalized in Oregon and Colorado, yet the first US-based retreat centers may not open for another year. Those seeking psychedelic experiences sooner than that may have to explore psilocybin retreats abroad.
But, how do you find the right place? We chatted with Cory Jones, co-founder of the psychedelic-therapy search site HealingMaps who offered his best tips for finding reputable clinics—and why it’s important to do so before undergoing ketamine treatment or embarking on a psilocybin journey.
First, What Does Ketamine Actually Do?
Ketamine is a Schedule III controlled substance drug in the US, which means—according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970—it has established medical uses. The drug’s Schedule III status means it’s easier to access than many other psychedelics, including psilocybin. Psilocybin is placed in the most restrictive Schedule I category.
Here’s the catch: from a biochemistry perspective, ketamine isn’t considered a psychedelic per se, but it does have psychedelic qualities, particularly at lower doses. The drug’s medical use began in the 1970s when it was used as an anesthetic. By the 1990s, it hit the rave scene as a popular party drug. Yet, ketamine’s effects are largely dose-dependent. At high doses, it’s pain-relieving, anesthetic, and highly dissociative. At lower doses, it has psychedelic properties, mild dissociative effects and is a potentially profound antidepressant.
On the mental health scene, ketamine began gaining notoriety a few years ago as a last resort for major depression and treatment-resistant depression. It also holds potential for many conditions, including other types of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A meta-analysis of ketamine studies published in 2022 showed 72 percent of participants with major depression found some relief after ten infusions. It also works more quickly than most conventional treatments for depression and prompts greater self-awareness of one’s behavior patterns.
“Where traditional pharma tends to just treat the symptom, ketamine helps people get to the root of the problem,” says Jones.
What To Expect During Ketamine Therapy
In clinics, ketamine infusions are typically given over a 40-minute period, during which the patient can relax on a couch and wear an eye mask. Often, practitioners will play soothing, ambient music. Dosing is individual, and practitioners usually start with a lower dose to gauge a person’s sensitivity to the compound before increasing the dose, if needed, in later sessions.
Each person responds differently to ketamine treatment, and experiences range from euphoric to dissociative. Though it’s generally considered a gentle medicine, challenging experiences with ketamine are also possible—and that’s one reason some ketamine treatment seekers prefer a supervised setting where support, such as reassuring words or a handhold, can easily be given.
Following ketamine treatment, setting aside time to integrate the experience is recommended. Many ketamine clinics have licensed therapists on staff who can help in that process. Engaging in talk therapy a day after ketamine treatment can be a supportive way to analyze and reflect on your experience. Full-service ketamine clinics have therapists experienced in ketamine integration on staff. Others suggest you do the bulk of the integration and reflection work with a therapist of your own choosing.
There are a couple of ways to access legal ketamine therapy: A qualified practitioner can prescribe an oral form of ketamine, sent directly to a patient’s home via mail delivery. You can also visit an in-person treatment clinic: ketamine is administered intravenously in supervised settings. A medical doctor, such as a psychiatrist or anesthesiologist, typically oversees ketamine clinics; a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant administers the treatment.
“It’s not one specific type of person who’s interested in psychedelic therapy,” says Jones. “Old, young, urban, rural, and people from all sorts of different demographic strata are coming to HealingMaps seeking relief.”
Psychedelic-assisted therapy is also increasingly seen as a viable alternative, or supplement, to traditional pharmaceuticals and talk therapy. “Because of all the media coverage, a lot more people are looking at this as a first option instead of a last resort,” says Jones.
In response to the increase in public interest in ketamine treatment, over a thousand clinics have opened in the US in the last few years. Because it can be challenging to find and individually vet each clinic in your area, a psychedelic search site like HealingMaps can be helpful to narrow the field. Here are a few general tips for finding a good place:
Reading reviews is a helpful way to gather information about a ketamine clinic and to benefit from the experience of others who have used the service. Comb through both positive and negative reviews. Look for indicators of professionalism, the caring qualities of the staff, and the efficacy of the clinic’s protocols. Consider leaving your own review after treatment to help others in their decision-making.
Ask Questions Before Committing to Treatment
When exploring possible treatment at a ketamine clinic, it’s important, says Jones of HealingMaps, to “make sure that the intake process is comprehensive.” A practitioner should explore your health history, current medications, and motivation for seeking psychedelic treatment during the intake. You, in turn, should feel comfortable, welcome, and free to inquire about the cost and duration of treatment and what to expect during sessions.
As with all psychedelic and therapeutic modalities, the setting—including the physical space and the people you’ll be interacting with—can deeply impact your experience. That’s why, says Jones, “it’s also important to vet the clinic for you. We always suggest you stop by, see what the vibe is, and make sure it feels good.”
Consider the Cost
The cost of ketamine treatment is not covered by insurance and can vary widely, depending on many factors. Here are things that may affect the cost of your treatment program:
- The route of administration (nasal, oral, IV, or intramuscular)
- Your number of sessions
- The location of the clinic
- Whether or not you choose to undergo talk therapy as an accompaniment to your sessions
Typically, ketamine therapy includes at least three treatments, after which you and your practitioner can evaluate its effectiveness and determine whether further treatment is necessary. Many clinics offer a bundled package of three to six ketamine treatment sessions.
Undergoing ketamine treatment without the addition of talk therapy is a more economical option but should be carefully considered. Some people experience profound personal growth with ketamine alone, but most find that their insights are best integrated by working with a qualified therapist or psychedelic integration coach.
Oregon and Colorado are the only states in the US that have legalized “supported adult use” of psilocybin, allowing adults to take psilocybin in the presence of a licensed guide. Oregon will begin issuing licenses to compliant psilocybin businesses in 2023. Neither state has directly legalized psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, which is only accessible to patients enrolled in FDA-approved clinical trials. In contrast, ketamine can be legally administered in the US by medical doctors and other licensed health professionals under supervision, so it’s more accessible for many people. Psilocybin retreats are legal in limited areas outside the United States, including Jamaica and the Netherlands.
Understand the Legal Status of Psilocybin Retreats
“Psilocybin tourism” is gaining steam as people seek access to healing psychedelic experiences that aren’t yet widely available in supervised, aboveground settings. Psilocybin service centers are not yet operational in Oregon and Colorado—although they will be in the coming years. A handful of locations in the United States decriminalized the possession of psilocybin mushrooms but have not legalized psilocybin retreats. Many people hoping to find legal psilocybin travel abroad to avoid confusing legal landscapes. According to Cory Jones from HealingMaps, Jamaica, which does not regulate psilocybin, is a popular destination for psychedelic healing retreats, as is Portugal, which nationally decriminalized drugs in 2001.
Find the Setting that Feels Most Comfortable for You
In broad terms, says the HealingMaps co-founder, international psilocybin retreats tend to be immersive, multi-day luxury experiences that focus on the spiritual aspect of healing, while ketamine clinics have a more clinical feel. Your interest and intention, along with your budget and availability, all come into play when choosing the psychedelic setting that’s right for you. On average, ketamine treatments tend to be more economical and require significantly less time commitment than attending an international retreat.
Always connect with guides abroad before traveling
It’s important to thoroughly vet a potential retreat—and the therapist or guide facilitating your journey. HealingMaps can help familiarize you with a retreat’s location, staff, areas of practice, and educational resources. Send a direct message or request more information from retreat staff. Before committing to travel, ask to connect via phone or a video platform.
With Ketamine Therapy and Psilocybin Retreats, You Still Have to Do the Work
Acknowledging the complexity of healing and growth, Jones wants people to keep in mind that psychedelic-assisted therapy or journeying is “not a panacea.” These compounds, he says, “can help the process and help you get to the root of the problem rather than just treating the symptoms—but you shouldn’t expect to be cured the day after you have an experience.” Integration is a vital part of the psychedelic growth curve, as is patience and the willingness to look closely—and with compassion—at oneself.
Pay Attention to Red Flags
Using a psychedelic search site like HealingMaps that features relevant information on ketamine clinics and psilocybin retreats is an excellent first step. While evaluating a clinic, retreat, or guide, pay attention to potential red flags, including:
- Promotional materials promising miraculous or instantaneous results (remember that healing is a process and that each person responds differently to psychedelic therapies)
- Staff has only recently begun working with psychedelics
- Staff does not know the answer to, or seems evasive of, your questions
- Staff is unavailable to speak with you before your travel (if applicable)
First and foremost, trust your gut when choosing a venue, your medicine, and a guide.
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