Dr. Sam Zand has seen dozens of patients struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder come through his office. Many arrive with similar complaints: doctors issue medications for rewiring the brain too freely, there is a lack of medical consultation in advance, and there is rarely a treatment plan to complement a bar of randomly distributed pills.
As the founder of the Las Vegas-based Calm Clinic, Zand, a clinical psychiatrist who also teaches the subject of psychedelic therapy at local universities, has been a staunch advocate for a variety of non-traditional treatment methods that have gained momentum – and legalization – in recent years.
One of these practices, intravenous ketamine infusion therapy, has shown particularly significant promise in reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms in the veteran community.
Ketamine treatments have made enough inroads with alleviating symptoms that the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Care Network recently expanded its relationship with Ketamine Wellness Centers to provide veterans with additional treatment options, such as the first approved ketamine nasal spray from the Federal Drug Administration.
Zand told Military Times that the move is overdue.
“We over-diagnose and over-prescribe in psychiatry,” Zand said at the Las Vegas-based MCON convention on military and veteran culture. “What you do [the Calm Clinic is] The fact is to bring more holistic, innovative measures, such as ketamine therapy, and recognize that there are many other strategies that we can exploit to improve our mental well-being.”
Veterans suffering from PTSD often come into the Calm Clinic experiencing symptoms of hypervigilance and fight or flight, Zand added. With intravenous ketamine treatment methods, however, the body and nervous system become more relaxed, and therefore, patients are more receptive to healing.
This approach, especially when complemented by speech therapy, is a formula designed to give immediate and lasting results, Zand said.
“As much talk therapy as you can do, without feeling relaxed and without your body being reset, it’s hard to tap into that growth mindset,” he said. “So, bringing relaxation and psychological growth is a combination that we need for our veteran community, and customize our program to work with vets to meet them where they are with a sense of compassion.”
This personalized program begins with a patient-clinician meeting—in person or online—for a comprehensive assessment of factors contributing to the patient’s PTSD symptoms.
Depending on how the symptoms manifest, Zand’s team will customize a treatment plan through modalities ranging from traditional medication to speech therapy and electrostimulation. Combining these programs in different capacities, he said, has yielded tremendous results.
And Clinica Calma is not alone in its success. A recent VA study found that 86% of veteran participants who participated in ketamine infusion therapy showed significant improvement in treatment-resistant depression.
A method of promoting that success is the inclusion of sound-based therapy before or after the infusion of ketamine. This approach, according to Torkom Ji, a meditative specialist based in Los Angeles who administers sound and vibration therapies, supports reaching levels of physical and mental calm capable of enhancing the results of the infusion.
“Sound therapy quickly calms the body and mind to prepare for a deeper sense of relaxation,” Ji told Military Times. “This can help you prepare for what you are going to embark on during a ketamine session. You need that space in time to be able to integrate the experience. And the use of vibrations and listening to music, especially the tonal music rich in nuances and soundscapes, helps us integrate a deeper sense of calm.”
Of course, getting calm has been difficult for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. A 2022 study on veterans’ mental health issues found that approximately 14%-16% of veterans who served in the Global War on Terror suffered from PTSD.
Yet with these emerging therapies working in conjunction, an immersive, almost transformative experience is possible, according to Zand.
“We often go into this thinking that there’s something wrong with us, that we have to fix it ourselves,” Zand said. “And it’s not true. We all have a mental health journey. But this treatment is not turntile care. It is personalized to our community. And leading with love and compassion, it worked tremendously.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.
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