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Psychedelic therapy to be offered in Nelson

A Nelson business opening Sept. 12 will offer the region’s only legal psychedelic therapy option to individuals with diagnosed mental health or addiction disorders.  

Understory Wellness is a ketamine assisted psychedelic therapy clinic and will only offer ketamine-assisted therapy programs until legal barriers allow access to other medications and holistic forms of therapy. 

Individuals who register will join a 12-week group therapy program. During the process, group members will meet for four weekly virtual meetings before receiving the first dose of the medication and after.  

Following the virtual sessions, group participants meet at the clinic and receive their first dose by injection in the shoulder or glute. All participants will receive the dose at the same time, with nurses, therapists, and physicians present for support.  

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The idea of opening a clinic of this nature in the Kootenays was brought up by Eric Eligh, a registered nurse who suffered a burnout a few years into his career.   

While studying at Selkirk College’s Castlegar campus, Eligh had the opportunity to do street nursing in Nelson where he worked with many people experiencing substance and mental health disorders.   

Eligh eventually relocated to Vancouver and spent six years working in the city’s downtown east side where he worked in a difficult environment, witnessing a lot of hardship and suffering.   

When he began experiencing mental health difficulties himself, Eligh was forced to take a three-month leave of absence from work. During his leave, he had a unique opportunity presented to him: a 12-week ketamine assisted therapy program on Vancouver Island called Roots and Thrive.   

“At the time it seemed very novel,” he says. “I knew very little about it. But when I found myself in the program, I quickly came to realize how fearful and disconnected I was from being vulnerable in the community, letting people hear me and understanding that they are going to hold me in a way that’s going to be safe.”   

After he completed the program, Eligh saw firsthand the positive effect it had on his own mental health and wanted to find a way to offer it to other people struggling with mental health disorders throughout the province.   

“That program ultimately was a catalyst for me in much the same way that doing street nursing here in Nelson was. That opportunity made clear to me the things that I want to bring forward to the people that I work with.”   

Before moving back to the Kootenays, Eligh began his psychedelic therapy training on the west coast and completed Vancouver Island University’s graduate certificate program for psychedelic assisted therapies.   

“The culmination with the timing of moving back to the Kootenays a few years ago, led me to wanting to bring what I had found to be incredibly profound for myself, what I had seen to be a beautiful way of opening people to parts of themselves they had lost connection with and I was excited to bring some of that here to the Kootenays.”   

Ketamine is a medication the health care system is well familiar with across the country. It has been used in Canada since the 1970s in surgical and trauma response settings. Eligh explained that since the 1990s the antidepressant effects at specific doses started to gain recognition, which led to the rising popularity of ketamine therapy.   

“People who have started accessing ketamine go again and again for either injections or infusions, and in some cases going for tens, if not hundreds of sessions to help address suicidality, major depressive disorder, and treatment-resistant depression.”   

Eligh says the effects of the medication allow a person to understand the root causes of anxiety, depression, and addiction behaviors. He says the ketamine assisted therapy model that is offered at Understory is designed to address the root cause of a patient’s symptoms through the group sessions which work in collaboration with the medication.  

“The ketamine assisted therapy at Understory is slightly different in the way that we recognize the medication has a biological effect, but we want to support people lean into their resources, to practice being vulnerable and one of the best ways to do that is in a group setting.  

“When we’re in a group and when we allow people to see our authentic selves, having that mirrored back to us is profoundly powerful. So many of us have been hurt in community so it reasons that healing in community would be an integral piece of returning to whole.”  

When asked about his experience with local health authorities and their thoughts on this form of therapy, Eligh says some hospitals in the province already offer ketamine therapy for in-patient psychiatric services, but services are very limited and specialized. 

“My hope is that we are kind of at the beginning. Understory is providing something holistic, and I hope the health authority will also at some point offer this to people in crisis as well, recognizing these have had incredible benefits for people experiencing suicidality and treatment resistant depression.”  

Debi Morris, the network director of mental health and substance use with Interior Health confirmed Eligh’s statement and says is being offered in Penticton to patients with treatment resistant depression. 

“Currently, Interior Health is utilizing ketamine for Treatment Resistant Depression in Penticton. Once this new treatment model is confirmed as working successfully, we will explore the expansion of this new treatment to other IH communities.”  

Morris says the treatment is emerging and just one of the many resources available for people suffering with mental health and addiction disorders.   

“We will be watching this treatment closely, and collecting information that will inform the future direction for the use of ketamine in mental health and substance use treatment across IH.  It is an emerging treatment, meaning that ketamine for treatment resistant depression is relatively new to IH but also generally in the treatment of mental health issues around the world.”  

She says IH is working within the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons guidelines, as well as the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatment guidelines to develop the treatment plan.  

Patients wishing to seek treatment with Understory are reminded that due to the current legal framework, Understory can only treat patients with diagnosed mental health disorders such as PTSD, anxiety and depression and substance use disorders A physician’s referral is also required. 


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