“We started our business in the knowledge that women over 40 are prescribed more than three to four times as many antidepressants as men, leading to one in five women taking an antidepressant to get through the day,” Juan says. Pablo Cappello, co-founder and CEO of the ketamine therapy platform Nue Life, which was approved by the FDA and raised $23 million in April.
Through platforms such as Nue Life, or at one of the hundreds of ketamine therapy clinics in the US, patients can take a controlled amount of a psychoactive substance under the careful guidance of a trained clinician to induce an altered state of consciousness (a trip). Having gained a lot of airtime in recent years for its purported ability to treat PTSD, anxiety, and substance abuse, ketamine is now also being studied as an effective way to relieve symptoms of postpartum depression.
A recent research in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that in patients at high risk for postpartum depression, a single dose of ketamine administered before anesthesia during cesarean sections could be effective in preventing it. Another ketamine therapy startup, Field Trip, is also about to begin personal Phase I clinical trials for FT-104, a psychedelic molecule similar to psilocybin but with a much shorter trip time. (Nikhita Singhal’s father, Sanjay Singhal, an entrepreneur who started audiobooks.com, is a Field Trip advisor.) “FT-104 has all the characteristics that make psilocybin so interesting and appealing from a therapeutic perspective – safety and efficacy – but with a very short duration of action,” Field Trip co-founder and executive chairman Ronan Levy told me. According to Levy, Field Trip’s existing preclinical studies indicate that FT-104 will leave the body after 12 hours, meaning breastfeeding can hypothetically be resumed within 24 hours – something that eventually needs to be validated in human trials and undergo scientific peer review.
Kelsey Ramsden, the former CEO of Vancouver-based psychedelics company Mindcure (which researched MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help women with a lack of sexual desire until it shut down earlier this year due to lack of funds), also says the market for postpartum depression attractive for psychedelic development because there is currently only one drug for the condition (zulresso). Ramsden believes in part because psychedelics worked to relieve her own symptoms after she had her first child. “The change in my life experience resulted in recurring depressive cycles, and it wasn’t necessarily a hormonal thing that was the ongoing problem,” she says. “It was just the change in my experience as a result of becoming a mother in a society that expected me to be a certain way.” She says she first tried SSRIs and traditional therapy, but eventually got on a stable footing after trying psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.
Ramsden believes that the entire psychedelic industry is still in its infancy. But she can envision a culture where it’s normal for women to use psychedelic drugs openly. When something is health related to work for women, she thinks, the good news is spreading like wildfire.
Allison Feduccia, with a PhD in neuropharmacology, believes that the best evidence we have of how psychedelics affect women is still largely anecdotal. For example, there are accounts that suggest that: peyote increases milk productionan idea supported by preliminary research from the 70s. For years, people have reported the ways: psychedelics have changed their menstrual cycle, linking them to heavier periods, a period that starts early, or – alternatively – a more regular cycle. Research has shown that estrogen boosts the brain’s dopamine reward pathway, so it’s also possible that a woman’s response to a particular drug may be more pleasant depending on the phase of her menstrual cycle.
Feduccia argues that psychedelics can be particularly helpful for the “rituals of transition” that most women go through. “Psychedelics can provide a better perspective as you get your first period, have your first child, and then go through menopause,” she says. “I just hope women can benefit from it” [from psychedelics] without dropping $20,000 for a guided approach.”
This guided approach is not only expensive, but also fraught with ethical concerns. Multiple high-profile cases of abuse in psychedelic therapy have made headlines in recent years. Richard Yensen, an unlicensed therapist who was a sub-investigator for MAPS, was accused of sexually abusing a PTSD patient during a MAPS clinical trial of MDMA. Sexual abuse allegations were also made against Aharon Grossbard and his wife, Françoise Bourzat, leaders of a prominent Bay Area group that has practiced psychedelic therapy for more than 30 years.