The soap company Dr. Bronner’s made headlines last year when it offered psychedelic-assisted therapy to workers through its employee health plan. Now the healthcare nonprofit that covered the treatment is expanding the offering to patients across the country.
Enthea, which bills itself as the “first and only licensed provider of health benefit plans that cover psychedelic-assisted therapies,” announced Wednesday the “nationwide availability” of ketamine-assisted therapy as an available employee benefit.
Employers interested in offering the ketamine therapy as a covered treatment, the company said, “can simply add it as an ancillary benefit, similar to dental and vision offerings.”
“Nationwide availability represents a pivotal moment in accomplishing Enthea’s mission of helping employers with workplace mental health challenges,” said Enthea CEO and co-founder Sherry Rais. “Our services at Enthea make it easy on businesses to embrace this safe and effective treatment offering for their employees and we’re proud to have the potential to impact the millions of people in the US living with mental health conditions.”
The company said in a press release that the expansion is possible because of new partnerships that expand Enthea’s provider network, including with Skylight Psychedelics and Innerwell.
The 2022 partnership with Dr. Bronner’s, in which the soap company offered “free ketamine-assisted therapy to all benefit-eligible employees” through Enthea, led to about 7 percent of the company’s workforce signing up for the employer-provided benefit. Generally the results were positive, with employees who received ketamine treatment reporting “dramatic improvements in mental health,” according to findings released last month.
Workers who completed the treatment sessions—which were facilitated by the San Diego-based Flow Integrative—said that the dissociative drug improved symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder by 86 percent, major depressive disorder by 67 percent and anxiety by 65 percent.
“Partnering with Enthea to offer ketamine-assisted therapy to our workforce is something that I’m especially proud of,” CEO David Bronner, a frequent supporter of drug reform, said at the time. “While not everyone experiences such deep healing, many of our team members have reported dramatic improvements in their lives as a result of ketamine-assisted therapy. We hope to inspire other companies and organizations to also partner with Enthea and offer this benefit to their staff.”
Many experts already view the drug as an effective treatment option for conditions such as treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. At the federal level, ketamine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as an anesthetic and is not currently specifically approved for any psychiatric disorders, though doctors are able to administer it for off-label purposes like they can with other pharmaceuticals.
“Ketamine is a very valuable tool for therapists trying to help with these disorders,” Dan Rome, Enthea’s chief medical officer. “When programmed mental defenses are lowered, more patients are able to get to the root of their problems. This can result in long-term relief
There is also an FDA-approved nasal spray called esketamine that produces similar effects and is authorized for the treatment of treatment-resistant depression. Both esketamine and ketamine itself are classified under Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act.
The regulatory situation means that coverage through mainstream insurers can be difficult or impossible, despite clinics that administer the substance operating in states from Alabama to Washington.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said in 2021 that existing research on the benefits of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression has been an “eye opener” and that more studies are on the way. “We have been funding research that is ongoing—on ketamine for opiate treatment and also ketamine for pain.”
“We need to learn from what what the evidence is showing us,” Volkow said. “If we can use ketamine for the treatment of severe depression in a way that is safe, this is an example of really that we can use drugs that we thought were dangerous and use them in ways that are therapeutic.”
Enthea says that its services will expand further to include MDMA- and psilocybin-assisted therapies “as they are approved.” MDMA, for its part, is on track for consideration by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) next year following successful Phase 3 clinical trials published earlier this month.
FDA designated MDMA as a “breakthrough therapy” in 2017. The new Phase 3 findings, published earlier this month in the journal Nature, found that MDMA-facilitated talk therapy reduced symptoms in patients with moderate to severe PTSD. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial involved 104 people with PTSD. Not only was treatment “generally well tolerated,” the study said, but therapy also showed robust results across participants.
FDA released its first-ever draft guidance for psychedelics research in June.
Bronner, the soap company CEO, has been active in psychedelics and marijuana policy in recent years, including by providing financing for the New Approach PAC, which played a key role in getting successful psychedelics legalization measures on the ballots of Oregon and Colorado. The soap magnate also disclosed at a conference in July that he’s backing similar reform endeavors in Massachusetts as well as in Arizona.
Enthea said last month that the results from its ketamine partnership with Dr. Bronner’s have motivated it to expand its treatment plan to cover telemedicine and at-home ketamine care in partnership with the wellness provider Nue Life.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Psychonaught.
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