On a weekday afternoon in November, 2021, Lindsay R.* lay down on her bed. She put headphones on, pressed “play” for a track on her phone, and put a tablet filled with ketamine on her tongue. Little by little, the chemical made its way to her brain and within seven minutes, she was starting to trip.
According to the company that sent her the drug, Lindsay was right on schedule. For about 25 minutes, she floated, mentally, through a comfortable ketamine high. Within 30 minutes, she started to come down. Within 60 to 70 minutes, the trip was over, and soon she was ready to journal about her experience. According to Lindsay, who has since taken ketamine at home at least one other time, the experience has changed her life. It turns out, while she may have been tripping by herself, Lindsay is far from alone.
Instead Lindsay, a thirty-something actress based in Los Angeles, is one of a growing number of people in the United States and beyond who are taking ketamine at home. The drug first came into public use as an anesthetic in the 1960s, before migrating into recreational use as a party drug. But in the past few years, ketamine is back. But rather than taking it purely for pleasure, more people are starting to seek out the drug as a means of improving mental health.
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One of the first studies on ketamine’s antidepressant potential was in 2020, in which researchers found it could be beneficial for people who are resistant to treatment for depression. In contrast to traditional antidepressants that can take weeks or even months to have an impact, ketamine works on a different neurotransmitter with more immediate results. Used on multiple occasions over time, some clinicians have reported positive outcomes, further fueling interest in it.
While ketamine isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment, doctors can prescribe it off-label. That loophole, combined with a burgeoning renaissance for psychedelics, has led to a micro-commercial boom. One expert estimated the number to be in the “many hundreds,” according to the New York Times. Along with private treatment centers, where patients can go for ketamine in-person, delivery companies have sprouted up, too.
Enter Mindbloom, the telemedicine company that Lindsay used for her ketamine deliveries. Launched in 2018, the company has a team of psychiatrists with specialties including ketamine-assisted therapies, addiction, and pain management. Still, the actual trips are done at home, with a set of carefully-curated steps designed to mitigate potential adverse effects (ketamine can cause high blood pressure and paranoia, among other issues), maximize the therapeutic potential (read: intention-setting and journaling) and ensure that patients have someone at home with them when they trip, should something go wrong.
For Lindsay, however, the experience was transformational—albeit in subtle ways that take time to take effect. Here’s what happened when she took ketamine at home:
Long before she took ketamine, Lindsay worked with therapists to help improve her mental health, including treatment for her obsessive compulsive disorder. She had never taken drugs in a party environment, but was interested in the potential impact that ketamine could have on breaking down her own mental walls.
“I’d heard a lot about psychedelics allowing you to look at things from a new perspective; to see the world or your life through different eyes than your own,” she said. “I come from an unstable background and I felt like a lot of my current ways of approaching life were impacted by those really old wounds. So I took psychedelics seriously in that if I could eliminate those unknown injuries from the equation, I’d be better at making decisions in my life.”
Ketamine at home: introductory calls
After answering a set of questions online, the company sets up an introductory call with a clinician. During that call, said Lindsay, they’re assessing whether you’re a candidate for ketamine treatment, what you’re looking for from the treatment, medical history, other medications, and what the correct dosage might be. In terms of verifying the information candidates provide, she said, “it’s the honor system.”
After that, there was a second call, to walk Lindsay through the process of the ketamine experience, how to prepare and what to expect. Then they schedule the trip experience itself.
Ketamine by mail
Once a candidate is approved for treatment, Mindbloom sends out the treatment with other accouterments for use at home.
“The tablets come in a nice little box. It’s a kit; they send you a little blood pressure cuff (which is super annoying) and they make you wear it the first time.” Also in the box: an eye mask and journal, where you’ll write your intentions for the journey and share your experience afterward.
First, Lindsay journaled about her intention for her first experience with ketamine at home. At the time, she was struggling in her relationship with her fiancé. The two are 33 years apart in age, and she often mourned the fact that she’d never get to experience the life he’d led before they met.
Looking back at her journal entry from that day, she could track her mindset going into the experience. “My goal at that time was to find harmony in my heart. Sometimes my mind is not in sync with what my heart wants.”
Pre-journey video call
Then, candidates have another video call, this time with a Mindbloom employee called a Guide.
“For 30 minutes she helped me make sure I set myself up correctly,” said Lindsay. “I took my blood pressure. She helped me make sure I didn’t forget to put water by the bed. She made sure that I have somebody there that’s able to be physically present and she asked him to come into the conversation and commit to staying with me during the trip. They don’t have to be in the same room, but if I need anything I need to be able to reach them. Then she said, ‘you’re ready to get started.’”
Ketamine journey: the start
Lindsay lay down and put a ketamine tablet in her mouth. With her headphones on, she started an hour-long track that Mindbloom provides to augment the experience. The first seven minutes was a series of motivational quotes, as she held the tablet in her mouth. “It’s something to distract you while you wait for the medicine to kick in,” she said.
After seven minutes, she spat out what was left of the powder in her mouth, and rinsed with mouthwash into a spit cup. The tablet, she said, “was like a bitter, foamy consistency and you just hold it in the front of your mouth. It’s really important not to swallow it. They strongly emphasize that the point is to have the medication absorbed through your saliva. Apparently, if you swallow it, it’s much more unpredictable.”
At this point, the motivational track transitioned into ambient music, and Lindsay’s trip had begun.
Ketamine journey: the experience
The next 30 minutes or so, she said, “felt like a weird dream. But it wasn’t dreaming. It was just me thinking. You’re so open to everything. Even if it’s not reality, you can still learn from it. If it still hurts you, you can dig deep enough into what your brain is wanting to create out of that imagination.”
For Lindsay, she felt like she actually had spent the past 33 years with her partner. “It was as if we had already spent a lifetime together,” she said. “The thing about it is, as ridiculous as it sounds, when you’re tripping, it’s like, it feels true. And then that emotion is almost like waking up from a great dream.”
The other striking thing she experienced during her first ketamine journey was encountering God. Lindsay grew up in a religious household, and has since left the religion and the church entirely. But during her trip at home, religion reappeared. She felt God’s presence, she said, and they joked and laughed together.
Ketamine journey: immediate aftermath
Lindsay said she was a little foggy immediately afterward; After about an hour to feel the effects and come down from the ketamine, it takes about another 30 minutes to feel ready to stand up and interact. Patients journal again, this time about what they experienced, and a day or two later, a Mindbloom Guide checks in for a debrief.
That call, she said, is “really pretty basic. They asked you about the experience. Did you have any cool thoughts? Did you enjoy it? Do you become sick? Did you notice anything that you’d like to do differently? I said, the taste of the stuff was really distracting. And although it was a great experience, it gave me a headache.”
Ketamine at home: one year later
Notably, Lindsay hadn’t thought about some of the concerns she’d first journaled about before her ketamine experience since taking it.
“No relationship is perfect, but ours has definitely gotten exponentially better,” she said. “And I haven’t even really thought about that [age issue] since then.”
As for her relationship with God and religion? That’s changed, too.
“Me and that energy are good,” she said. “I no longer have to be ashamed of leaving [the church]; ashamed for the choices I made as I got out of the religion, choices that would have been such a sin. Having that connection with the idea of there being God and being at peace with him was really powerful to me. I’m not pursuing a relationship with God at all, but I think it was cool that I got that closure.”
Overall, Lindsay’s experience was positive enough that she would recommend taking ketamine at home to others who are open to it. She said she’s more patient with herself now, she’s more self-compassionate than she was prior to taking the drug. But, she added, it still takes work beyond the ketamine trip to experience lasting change.
“It’s not like you take some psychedelics and all your problems are solved. It’s more like, you have these open experiences and then you can if you work with those and come back to them, they can be really powerful.”
And that self-work is, in a sense, a trip that lasts a lifetime.
*The subject’s name has been shortened to protect her privacy.