VIU psychedelic therapy training program shows promise for treating PTSD, depression

VIU Nursing Professor Dr. Shannon Dames has received a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research award that will allow her to focus on development of a psychedelic-assisted mental health therapy program. ­­|| Vancouver Island University photo
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A new Vancouver Island University (VIU) psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy and resilience training program is getting a funding boost because of its promising results.

Dr. Shannon Dames, a nursing professor, developed the program in collaboration with Island Health, to treat healthcare providers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, trauma and emotional exhaustion. The first 12-week trial has yielded “remarkable results,” according to VIU.

“It is healing people who didn’t think they could be healed,” said Dames, who is practising ketamine-assisted therapy. “Our evaluation results show significant improvements. Of the 16 participants in the first quality improvement cohort, 11 screened positive for PTSD. All of the PTSD patients screened negative upon program completion, which is unheard of.”

Dames was awarded $450,000 over five years from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and the Lotte & John Hecht Memorial Foundation to continue her work.

“This award is a gift that will allow me the time to really focus on expanding access to these innovative and evidence-based therapies, which are sorely needed during this global health crisis,” said Dames.

Of 13 participants who screened positive for generalized anxiety, 62 per cent left screening negative, and 48 per cent had significant clinical improvements, a release from VIU said. Of the 13 who screened positive for depression, 100 per cent saw significant improvements in their scores. One month later seven patients were in remission and six patients showed a reduction in symptoms from moderate or severe to mild.

The research team is currently onboarding the second cohort of participants in the Roots To Thrive – Ketamine Assisted Therapy treatment program. Long-term goals include creating an accredited psychedelic-assisted therapy training certificate program, which will be added to the VIU curriculum.

The project is supported by a multidisciplinary team of health and research professionals and agencies, including the BC SUPPORT Unit Vancouver Island Centre, an initiative that supports patient-oriented research in the region; Island Health clinicians; VIU researchers; the University of Victoria; and the University of British Columbia (UBC). 

Dames is also collaborating with Island Health’s Research and Capacity Building department and the Ministry of Health’s Innovation Hub to develop the first publicly offered program in Canada that combines resilience-based communities of practice with ketamine-assisted therapy. Ketamine is currently the only legal medicine that produces psychedelic effects.

“The fact that Shannon received this prestigious award recognizes the exceptionally innovative research that her team is doing and the potential impact for health outcomes in B.C.,” said Dr. Nicole Vaugeois, associate vice-president of scholarship, research and creative activity at VIU.

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is B.C.’s health research funding agency. The long-term professional-investigator awards support health professionals who are actively involved in patient care to conduct and apply research relevant to health and the health system.

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