Safe ketamine treatment is a requirement for effective healing and includes ethical practice, responsible care, and above all, a focus on the patient. Join Dr. Steven Mandel as we learn about his impact on the field of ketamine treatment as a pioneer and a practitioner.
Getting to Know Dr. Steven Mandel
Dr. Steven Mandel is an internationally recognized expert and pioneer in the use of ketamine infusion therapy to treat mental health disorders and chronic pain. Dr. Mandel has more than 40 years of experience utilizing ketamine as a board-certified anesthesiologist and completed everything towards his Ph.D. in clinical psychology except for his dissertation.
He is the founder and president of Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles, a leading ketamine infusion clinic in southern California. Having administered more than 13,000 ketamine infusions, Dr. Mandel works closely with patients to treat mental health disorders, including depression, suicidality, anxiety, and PTSD. Dr. Mandel is also a founder of the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, Psychotherapists and Practitioners (ASKP3), where he served as the organization’s first president and is currently an active board member.
Dr. Mandel first became interested in mental health through his family of origin, when depression and behavioral challenges made him curious about the impact of mental health. Dr. Mandel received a full scholarship to study clinical psychology as graduate student and was close to earning his Ph.D. when he had the opportunity to go to medical school.
“I became an anesthesiologist, but I continued my interest in the mental health profession…it turned out that ketamine – a drug I was using for anesthesia – became known to really be an amazingly effective lifter of mood and reverser of suicidality. I just jumped on it, and I started applying the interest that had been latent since I was a child to my professional work.”
Safe Ketamine Treatment
Ketamine’s speed in reducing symptoms is one singular feature of its impact. “Ketamine is a unique medicine, even among other psychedelic medicines. It is…a dissociative medicine. It works…very quickly in hours or days, as opposed to months. It’s very safe.” Dr. Mandel sees ketamine’s safety as one of its defining features. “You can even give [ketamine] to pregnant ladies if they’re suicidal, [as] it does not harm the fetus to nearly the same extent as all the other agents are known to do.” It also just plain works. As Dr. Mandel says, “It’s extremely effective. In our clinic, about 83% of our patients experience 50% or more relief of their symptoms. There are no other traditional antidepressants that give you that go-to result.”
Another key feature that sets safe ketamine treatment apart is, as Dr. Mandel says, “Ketamine has virtually no [acute] side effects. It doesn’t produce obesity, the loss of libido, and the locked-in feeling that so many other antidepressants do. It works by a totally different mechanism…and by so doing, it actually modifies growth in the brain and causes new growth in areas of the brain associated with depression.”
The clinical studies that support the efficacy of safe ketamine treatment demonstrate its neurological impact. “In laboratory models, we can actually prove growth in the areas that were depressed. So, it has an immediate effect of changing your mood and giving you a really transformative experience, and then it causes new growth in your brain. That’s very different from the traditional medicines.”
Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles & Safe Ketamine Treatment
The work of Dr. Mandel, and his business partner and son Sam Mandel, at Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles is focused on providing safe ketamine treatment by being patient-focused. “The patient comes first. The entire set and setting of the clinic are designed to promote transformation for patients. We make sure patients feel safe, comfortable, relaxed…and secure.” This starts at the first step through the door. “[Patients] come in to a warm and inviting reception area…[it can feel] like someone’s living room. They’re greeted by people who really want to see them and are glad that they’re there.” Patients’ time and dignity is respected from the start – something that shows up in the intake process. “[Patients] never have to share [information] more than once, because it goes right to our server and populates all the relevant fields.” The team also focuses on ensuring patient’s have all the information they need. “[We are] really transparent, fully involving the patient in all decisions regarding his or her care and not proceeding without consensus.” This is especially vital for patients who may be new to ketamine treatment and may have questions or concerns that must be warmly and accurately addressed before the healing can begin.
When its time for treatment, patients are brought into a softly lit room with a reclining lounger and blankets. “We provide noise-canceling headphones and music for people who prefer it, and almost all do. We think it facilitates the experience.” The IV ketamine treatment is established quickly and painlessly with very small needles by a highly skilled professional. Hospital-grade monitoring is then applied comfortably, because as Dr. Mandel says, “we don’t see any conflict between comfort and safety.”
This reflects the focus on safe ketamine treatment at Dr. Mandel’s clinic. “We make sure that people are fully protected and monitored and feeling very cared for and nurtured. After the patient is satisfied that all his or her questions are answered and they’re ready to proceed, and not until, then we proceed.” “We are mindful that this is an everyday thing for us and we’re extremely comfortable with it. And for the person coming in for his or her first infusion… [it can be] pretty scary. [Maybe] they’ve heard of bad ketamine, the horse tranquilizer, or ketamine the party drug, and are here they are having this for treatment. And what’s really bothering them, is that they are really feeling kind of hopeless or helpless or worthless. They’re not having pleasure in life and not able to accomplish their everyday tasks. Many of them have tried many other things before coming. They are in a very vulnerable state, and we are present to that every time because it’s brand new for them.”
Advancing Ethics in Ketamine through ASKP3
In addition to being a leader of safe ketamine treatment with Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles, Dr. Mandel has worked to create standards to support healing through the field of ketamine infusions for mental health. He has achieved this goal in large part through his work as a founder of the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, Psychotherapists and Practitioners (ASKP3). At the time of its founding, there were “not much more than a handful [of ketamine practitioners] in the entire country. I got people together and we spoke in the fall of 2016; by 2017 we formed an organization.”
Part of the appeal and impact of ASKP3 has been to gather practitioners from all different health and mental health fields. “We were inclusive from the very beginning. Ketamine is an orphan drug. Almost all drug information and, in fact, health information, is acquired from those who are selling drugs and devices. Nobody is selling ketamine because there’s no profit in ketamine for the people who produce it…It’s a ubiquitous, commodity drug, primarily used for anesthesia. It’s among the most widely used anesthetics on Earth and has been for many decades. But for mood disorders, there’s no…specialty that’s championing it. It’s not the province of anesthesia, even though it’s an anesthetic drug. It’s not the province of psychiatry, even though psychiatry deals with behavior problems. It’s not something that emergency room physicians focus on, typically, even though many emergency room physicians are very good ketamine practitioners. It falls through the cracks. Somewhat analogous to headache, where many different specialists bring their attention to [this specialized area]. Not because they have expertise from training, but because they are passionate about it, and they get together and learn from one another and try to advance the field that way, because there isn’t a vendor who is disseminating information in order to promote its use.”
ASKP3’s mission is “to get ketamine out there for patients in a safe and effective manner. And I emphasize that because initially, it was getting it out there for patients because it really was only available in a handful of places in the whole country. Well, now it’s available in several hundred places and the current issue is how varied the quality of care is. So, in addition to championing the use of ketamine, we are championing standards for providers and a code of ethics…We have developed a code of ethics. We have spent tremendous time and energy developing a national standard certification which is still in the works. We are making sure that before anything is rolled out, it’s done in a thoughtful and meticulous way that both protects and enhances all the stakeholders, including providers and patients.”
Increasing Access to Safe Ketamine Treatment
One key part of increasing healing through ketamine treatment is ensuring it is accessible. This often means ensuring it is covered by insurers. Dr. Mandel says, “If I had a magic wand, I would have all those who reimburse for insurance companies realize that this is a compassionate and economically affected decision. If they are paying for Prozac and Zoloft and Ambien they should be paying for people’s ketamine infusions. It saves lives. It actually will reduce ultimate claim costs. It’s the only reasonable thing to do for the subscriber who has paid his/her premiums.”
Connecting with Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles
Dr. Mandel and his team would love to connect with you, whether you are a potential patient or a provider. Interested parties can call (310) 270-0625 or visit ketamineclinics.com. “The website is full of valuable information for both providers and for patients…There is a dropdown menu along the top that will give you a link to both popular press articles and research articles – not only Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles but on ketamine as a treatment for mood disorders for PTSD, for suicidality, for OCD, for eating disorders. We’re also finding enormous positive effects on postpartum depression, disrupted sleep, [and so much more].