Michael Cooper MD
Whether you’re about to embark on your very first psychedelic experience with Innerwell or you’ve already done one or two sessions, you’re probably looking forward to reaping the mental-health benefits and alleviation of some of the more debilitating symptoms that you feel have been holding you back in life.
The good news: Innerwell is here to do just that and was created not only to help set you up for success during your psychedelic experience, but also help you come down from that experience and continue to make gains on your journey towards healing and reflection.
What to expect during your session
During each session, which tends to hover around one hour, you can expect the medicine to start taking effect in about 10 minutes. This is especially true if you’re taking the medication orally, which is the most straight-forward way to administer ketamine—especially when it comes to treating depressed patients. Depending on your dose, you can expect the experience to be a little different, notes Mike Cooper, M.D., Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Innerwell. “At the lower range of ketamine, the patient might feel very relaxed, almost like they had a glass of wine, and may find it easier to talk about past experiences, memories and even traumatic aspects of their past that they want to work on in therapy,” says Dr. Cooper. “They might look at things from a different perspective or a new angle and sort of reconsider how they're going about their daily life; maybe thinking about ways of building new habits, healthier habits, making some changes in their life.”
As you get higher up in the dose range for ketamine, the experience can become a bit more psychedelic, which might involve bright vivid colors that might even move with the sound of music. Dr. Cooper points out that at these higher doses it’s even possible to see geometric patterns and different types of imagery that can be really pleasing to the mind. “A person in this dose range may experience a very profound shift in how they're feeling about their life and how they think about themselves as a person, as an individual, and in connection to the world around them,” he says.
Sessions are usually about two hours in duration to accommodate for the fact that there may be some pre-medication discussions where the therapist might talk to the patient about their intentions for the session and what they hope it will reveal, as well as for a post-session recap after the ketamine has worn off. This gives some time for the patient to fully recover during which they may experience a little bit of grogginess or a little bit of lightheadedness. “Sometimes patients can have a little bit of nausea from ketamine that can linger for half an hour,” adds Dr. Cooper. The potential for these side effects to occur is one of the benefits to having Innerwell so accessible from your own home—there’s no need to drive to and from your session.
What to expect after your session has ended
While the effects of ketamine will certainly have worn off once your session with your psychotherapist has come to a close, you can expect to feel some post-ketamine side effects, as mentioned above. For this reason, it can be helpful to just take it easy. Here are some key dos and don'ts that Dr. Cooper recommends for the rest of the day and week after your ketamine session has ended.
Don’t drive for at least four hours
Assuming your dose was no more than 200 mg, you should not operate heavy machinery or drive for at least four hours. If your dose was between 200-400 mg, you should avoid driving for at least 8 hours, which will pretty much be the remainder of that entire day. If your dose was above 400 mg, certainly do not consider driving the rest of the day at all.
Avoid alcohol or recreational drugs
“Alcohol, especially, tends to dampen some of the integration of the psychedelic experience into the person's psyche because of its effects on the brain,” says Dr. Cooper. For this reason, he recommends avoiding alcohol the day before, the day of, and the day after a ketamine session. “Sometimes ketamine can be a little disruptive to your sleep the same night that you take the ketamine and this effect can be exacerbated by alcohol or drugs,” he adds.
Journaling has long been recognized as a self-care technique that can work wonders for improving a person’s mental health. In fact, research has even shown that journaling can help relieve medical symptoms such as high blood pressure as well as anxiety. Dr. Cooper recommends journaling prior to your session to help get you in the right frame of mind to begin thinking about your intentions and what you want to work out during your session. Depending on the intensity of your dose, you might not be able to focus very well on journaling during your actual session. Journaling once the session is over is also encouraged—even up to a day or two afterwards. “Write about any thoughts, feelings, memories, imagery that came up both during your session as well as following,” says Dr. Cooper. He does point out the importance of not feeling pressured to document everything that you experienced down on paper. “A lot of the healing occurs nonverbally, so don’t worry if you don't remember every detail or record every single thought you had during the experience,” he says.
Try not to allow stress in
This one can be somewhat inevitable and outside of your control, however, Dr. Cooper emphasizes the importance of being mindful of any potential triggers that you know of and trying to avoid them during the days following your session. “The brain is very malleable after a psychedelic experience due to the fact that the window of neuroplasticity lasts for the next 72 hours after taking ketamine,” says Dr. Cooper. “During this period of time it's a little bit easier to begin integrating new perspectives and thinking about how to build healthier habits in your life, so it’s important to make space for these changes to occur.”
Do something different
During this extended period of neuroplasticity, when your brain is more malleable, you might consider putting into practice the things you've been wanting to do that you may have been putting off. “For example, if yoga or meditation are activities you’ve been hoping to integrate into your day-to-day, it will be easier for you to start doing these kinds of things within that 72-hour window where neuroplasticity is taking place,” says Dr. Cooper. “It's an opportunity to really shape your life in a bit of a different way.”
Listen to the playlist you heard during treatment
Listening to music, even relistening to the playlist that you heard during your ketamine session, can be quite helpful during the healing process, notes Dr. Cooper. He recommends revisiting some of the songs that were particularly emotionally evocative for you, as this can sort of take you back to the state of mind you were in and help you process some of the topics that came up for you during your session.
Take a social media break
This is a great tip to incorporate in your life every now and then, but especially after a ketamine treatment, per Dr. Cooper. He recommends being mindful of what you’re putting into your psyche via social media, the Internet and any news sources. “There's a lot of negative content out there and the news can be very anxiety-provoking and depressing,” he says. “Be mindful of what you're putting into your mind and your body after a ketamine experience because it's a really opportune time to gain a new perspective on life and more of an optimistic perspective.” All in all, try to be mindful of what information is going into your brain from the external world and focus on the positive energies as opposed to the negative ones.