Denver, CO

Psychedelic ‘brain spas’ may flourish in Denver

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) “Brain spas” may flourish as decriminalization of drugs converges with emerging medical research claiming psychedelics can improve health.

That’s the prediction of Anna Wexler and Dominic Sisti of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia. They authored a paper “Brain Wellness ‘Spas’—Anticipating the Off-label Promotion of Psychedelics” that appears this week in Journal of the American Medical Association.

A brain spa boom surely would be seen in Denver, where the establishments already exist for ketamine infusions and other treatments. Colorado voters decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms, too, opening that up to the brain spa market.

The JAMA paper describes clinical studies that have shown MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms have therapeutic effects. The research even has convinced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the substances’ worth.

“Recent phase 3 clinical studies indicate … MDMA is both efficacious and well tolerated in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder,” the JAMA viewpoint explains. “Psilocybin—naturally found in mushrooms—appears in phase 2 studies to be efficacious in treating depression.”

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The FDA has designated both drugs as breakthrough therapies, fast-tracking them for approval. The business world is poised to leap. “Commercial interest has surged, with dozens of companies investing in psychedelic drug development in what is predicted to be a multibillion-dollar market,” the authors explained.

MDMA is an ingredient in the illegal party drug "Ecstasy." Ketamine is used in the illegal substance "Special K," popular among ravers.

Denver already has brain spas

So-called brain spas already exist in Denver. This shouldn’t be a surprise in the state that trailblazed legalization of marijuana several years ago. More recently, Colorado voters decriminalized possession of “magic mushrooms,” or psilocybin.

Now a group is trying to put a measure on the Colorado November ballot that would allow psilocybin mushrooms to be consumed in controlled environments. According to the measure, consumption centers would be licensed by the state. The centers could be in most any healthcare environment: A hospital, hospice, community center, federally qualified health center, rural health clinic, long-term care community, continuing care retirement community, or any other healthcare facility.

The authors of the JAMA piece worry the psychedelic boom could backfire. They believe the safety and effectiveness of treatments may vary with off-label uses. “Any approval of psychedelic treatments will come against the background of an already-burgeoning landscape of private neurotherapy and brain wellness clinics that promote the off-label use of psychiatric drugs and medical devices,” they wrote. “Furthermore, off-label ketamine use is promoted by clinics for a variety of clinical indications.”

Denver’s ketamine providers

Denver is home to several spas that administer ketamine. The drug has been used as everything from an animal tranquilizer to an ingredient in "Special K," an illegal psychedelic popular among the rave and circuit party crowd.

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Vitalitas Denver bills itself on its website as “a specialized depression treatment and ketamine clinic offering ketamine infusions as a therapy for treatment resistant depression, postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and chronic pain conditions.”

Expertise in psychedelic prescribing needed

The authors of the JAMA piece say people with chronic conditions such as bipolar disorder need to be assessed by seasoned mental health professionals.

“While physicians can legally offer off-label treatments, any ethical administration of a treatment requires health care professionals to have competency, not just relevant credentials,” according to the JAMA opinion piece. “Physicians without relevant training may not be able to competently treat patients with serious conditions, such as bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. Related concerns include that those without any medical training may offer psychedelic treatments for mental health conditions and that there may be insufficient staffing of mental health counselors who can competently guide patients through psychedelic sessions.”

Psychedelic business set to explode

One thing is for sure. The psychedelic experience is expected to be big business. Dr. Joshua Phelps and colleagues wrote in a January viewpoint in JAMA that as of then, more than 50 publicly traded companies related to the development or administration of psychedelic-like drugs existed in the US, with at least three valued at more than $1 billion. “The market for psychedelic substances is projected to grow from $2 billion in 2020 to $10.75 billion by 2027, a growth rate that may even outpace the legal US cannabis market,” wrote Phelps, of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York.

If money is to be made, expect Denver to get in on the action. One of the tallest buildings in the Mile-High City looks like a cash register after all, even to people not under the influence of psychedelics.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

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