By the time Aubree N. found Joyous, a mail-order ketamine treatment for mental health, she had already given the gamut of modalities a try: Somatic experiencing. EMDR. Neurofeedback. Brain spotting. Talk therapy. Breathwork. Microdosing psilocybin. Antidepressants.
But in fall 2022, she was ready for something new. A writer and brand expert, she had moved from New York to Los Angeles just before the global pandemic shut things down, and was still feeling isolated in her new home. She had also been struggling with a health issue, a family conflict, deep depression, and profound insomnia. Taken together, she said, “it was a perfect storm.”
So when someone suggested mail-order ketamine to Aubree over Instagram, where she often posts about her mental health, she decided to give it a try. Plus, there was a low barrier to entry. She filled out a brief questionnaire and signed up online and scheduled a video call to go over her medical history and reason for seeking out the drug. A few days after the call, her ketamine arrived in the mail.
“I’ve had a lot of good experiences from microdosing psilocybin, so I was hoping that I would get the same new thinking around anxiety with sleep,” she said. “I wanted new neural pathways about my mood. With ketamine at home, I wouldn’t have to go get my mind blown like it can with ketamine infusions. I could just test it out at a low dose and see how it worked in my body.”
The process of taking Joyous ketamine at home
Joyous arrives in 60 mg packs of troches (also known as lozenges), broken up into four doses. Patients start with 15 mg at a time, which is considered a low dose and is part of what distinguishes Joyous from other ketamine services. According to the company’s website, taking ketamine at a lower-than-typical dose produces a psycholytic reaction—a state of calm and mental spaciousness—versus a psychedelic one, which can be more intense and emotionally demanding.
That psycholytic state, Joyous posits, is more conducive to therapy, meditation and overall mental health treatment. Because of its gentler impact on the brain, the theory goes, it can be taken more regularly than a psychedelic. As of the date of this interview, Aubree had been taking one psycholytic dose of ketamine nearly every day for two weeks.
At first, she said, “I was a little nervous. You put the troche in the upper part of your jaw between your lip and your gum, and you want to let it dissolve there. As soon as you do that, you start feeling super, super, super relaxed. It’s like your whole body’s melting and feels really good.”
Still, for Aubree, the more noticeable impact was what came next.
“I can’t pinpoint any connections that I made while I was taking the ketamine,” she said. “But waking up the next day, I wanted to do certain things that I did like, a year and a half or two years ago—before I became severely depressed. Things like making flower arrangements. Or putting on certain clothes that my former, happy self would’ve put on. My calm, happy, competent, creative self. My not-scared self.”
The impact of taking ketamine at home
Over the two weeks that Aubree was taking ketamine every day or so, those subtle mood shifts continued. She wakes up and plays some of her favorite records: Carole King, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac. Donning those outfits she used to wear—long dresses, nice boots; clothes that feel joyful—she goes to her co-working space and has the energy and motivation to pursue her career goals. Her facial dysmorphia, which plagued her when Zoom replaced in-person interactions, has also begun to fade.
“I’m going back to who I am,” she said.
So far, the experience has solidified her belief in the potential value of psychedelics and ketamine (which affect the brain in distinct ways) in treating mental health.
“Mood, depression, anxiety—ketamine is helping with all of those things. Not enough. I still need more help with it, but it’s also making me ask, how can I get more of the psychedelics into my healing toolkit? Should I cut down some of my talk therapy?”
During Aubree’s treatment, Joyous checks in often to monitor her results. Aubree receives a daily questionnaire about everything from her mood to her sleep and anxiety to nausea. She likens the questionnaires to Google surveys or Survey Monkey, with multiple-choice answers. For more personalized support, questions and feedback, she was able to call the company and speak with someone with any questions she had (in fact, she had many).
“I’ve asked them a million questions,” she said. “Like my dreams, I remember all of them. I have way more REM sleep now. I wanted to know if this was normal. Also, what about my side effects, like dry mouth? And when I’m not able to sleep, I want to know why. Am I taking it too close to bedtime?”
In each case, Aubree’s been able to reach a real person who fields her questions competently and patiently. That level of support can be key, especially at the beginning of a ketamine treatment. For Aubree, who has been sober for 18 years, being able to ask questions in real time, when needed, helped make the experience feel safer.
Setting intentions for ketamine use
Another key, she said, is intention-setting prior to dosing. She’s only had one negative experience with the drug, and it was a day when she was feeling aimless and took the ketamine without considering her setting or frame of mind. After taking her dose—notably, she took more than her normal dose that day—she lay down on a mat in her house and turned on some music. At first, she felt relaxed. But then things went downhill.
“I got really, really scared,” she said. “Then I was lonely, and I felt purposeless. If I had taken it and thought, ‘help me meditate on my purpose,’ or, ‘take the next right action of how I’m going to get connection in my life,’ or ‘help me rest before I go out into the world.’ I mean, anything. But there was a mindlessness about it. “Anyone who’s sensitive to medicine or has mental health issues that are present, it seems like you’ve got to be more purposeful with it.”
Still, Aubree has continued to take ketamine, and is more careful with her approach every time. And even after her negative experience with the drug on the day she describes, she also recommends it without hesitation.
“I don’t think there’s any downside,” she said. “I saw improvement within the first day. So why wouldn’t you try it?”