Dr. Sam Zand has seen scores of patients struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder come through his office. Many arrive with similar gripes: Doctors issue brain-rewiring medications too freely, there is a dearth of medical consultation beforehand, and seldom is there a treatment plan to complement a barrage of haphazardly distributed pills.
As the founder of the Las Vegas-based Calm Clinic, Zand, a clinical psychiatrist who also teaches the subject of psychedelic therapy at local universities, has been a staunch advocate for an array of nontraditional treatment methods that have gained momentum — and legalization — in recent years.
One such practice, intravenous ketamine infusion therapy, has exhibited especially significant promise in reducing PTSD symptom severity in the veteran community.
Ketamine treatments have made enough inroads with mitigating symptoms that the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Care Network recently expanded its relationship with Ketamine Wellness Centers to provide veterans with additional treatment options, such as the first Federal Drug Administration-approved ketamine nasal spray.
Zand told Military Times the move is overdue.
“We over-diagnose and we over-prescribe in psychiatry,” Zand said at the Las Vegas-based MCON convention on military and veteran culture. “What [the Calm Clinic is] doing is bringing more holistic, innovative measures, like ketamine therapy, and recognizing that there are so many other strategies we can tap into to improve our mental wellness.”
Veterans encumbered by PTSD often enter the Calm Clinic experiencing hyper-vigilance and fight-or-flight symptoms, Zand added. With intravenous ketamine treatment modalities, however, the body and nervous system become more relaxed, and therefore, patients are more receptive to healing.
This approach, especially when supplemented by talk therapy, is a formula designed to yield immediate and lasting results, Zand said.
“As much talk therapy as one might do, without feeling relaxed and without your body being reset, it’s hard to tap into that growth mindset,” he said. “So, bringing relaxation plus psychological growth is a combination we need for our veteran community, and we customize our program to work with vets to meet them where they are with a sense of compassion.”
That personalized program begins with a patient-clinician meeting — in person or online — for a full evaluation of contributing factors to the patient’s PTSD symptoms.
Depending on how symptoms manifest, Zand’s team customizes a treatment plan via modalities that range from traditional medication to talk therapy and electro-stimulation. Combining these programs in varying capacities, he said, has yielded tremendous results.
And the Calm Clinic is not alone in its success. A recent VA study found that 86% of veteran participants who took part in ketamine infusion therapy showed significant improvement in treatment-resistant depression.
One method of furthering that success is the inclusion of sound-based therapy before or after ketamine infusion. This approach, according to Torkom Ji, a Los Angeles-based meditative specialist who administers sound and vibration therapies, supports reaching levels of physical and mental calm capable of enhancing the infusion’s results.
“Sound therapy quickly calms the body and mind to prepare you for a deeper sense of relaxation,” Ji told Military Times. “That can help prepare you for what you’re going to embark on during a ketamine session. You need that space in time to be able to integrate the experience. And using vibrations and listening to music, especially tonal music rich with overtones and soundscapes, helps us integrate a deeper sense of calm.”
Of course, achieving calm has proven difficult for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2022 study of veterans’ mental health issues found that approximately 14%-16% of veterans who served in the Global War on Terror suffer from PTSD.
And yet, with these emerging therapies working in conjunction, an immersive, almost transformative experience is possible, according to Zand.
“We often go into this thinking there’s something wrong with us, that we have to fix ourselves,” Zand said. “And that’s not true. We all have a mental health journey. But this treatment is not turnstile care. We customize it to our community. And by leading with love and compassion, it’s been working tremendously.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.