“We’ve had feedback from people who took part in the Ketamine for Reduction of Alcoholic Relapse (KARE) study saying, ‘This has changed my life.’ Existing treatments hadn’t worked for them, but this did.”
Awakn’s Head of Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy for Alcohol Use Disorder Practice, Professor Celia Morgan, is talking about the positive outcomes arising from the groundbreaking KARE research project, which she was principal investigator on.
“We had a man who’d been drinking seven bottles of wine a night reporting being sober for the first time in thirty years, which is an incredibly powerful testimony,” she continues. “To be honest, the picture’s been pretty bleak for people with alcoholism. To start with, they’ve had to go through detox before we could start any other treatment. Then there's not a lot available other than peer support like AA, or therapy groups but these don't work for everyone. People can be prescribed one of the existing relapse prevention medications, which they tend not to stick to because you have to take them regularly, and there can be quite nasty side effects. You don’t get that with ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, which is what makes it such an important medicine.”
Conducted at Exeter University where Celia is Head of Psychology and Professor of Psychopharmacology, the KARE study produced some eye-catching statistics.
“The currently available treatments have a high relapse rate of 75% within a year,” she continues. “Ketamine, combined with psychotherapy, reduces the six-month relapse rates by nearly 60% compared to placebo. That’s phenomenal.”
While the KARE study was primarily about the efficacy of ketamine in treating Alcohol Use Disorder, Celia says its applications are far ranging.
“The indicators are that it’ll be just as effective as an adjunct to treating depression, PTSD, anxiety-related disorders and eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, which has a very high morbidity rate,” she explains.
Celia is delighted to see psychedelic therapeutics being championed by such prominent politicians as Crispin Blunt MP, the chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform and a member of the same Medical Psychedelics Group as Awakn Sciences Board Chairman, Professor David Nutt.
“The moral case for engaging in the research into psychedelics is a blinding glimpse of the obvious,” Blunt says. “We’re talking about millions of people suffering with depression – the potential here is absolutely enormous.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, Oregon has become the first American state to enable the therapeutic use of psilocybin by rescheduling it with more set to follow.
“It’s great to see things progressing so quickly,” Celia enthuses. “All you can ask of politicians, as of anyone else, is that they follow the science. The media has done a very good job of getting the facts out there, helped by the likes of David Nutt and Awakn’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ben Sessa, continually pushing the agenda. They’re making headlines now as something new and revolutionary but these medicines have been used in indigenous cultures for millennia, and in a few years will just be a normal part of the medical landscape.”
With the UK’s Office for National Statistics reporting 7,565 alcohol-specific deaths in 2019 and the NHS estimating a £3.5 billion yearly spend on treatment, Celia says the need for novel approaches is urgent.
“Prolonging abstinence in patients with alcohol dependency will improve their physical health, reduce life-threatening related diseases and lessen the financial burden on the NHS,” she expands. “A common trigger for relapse is low-mood. Standard SSRIs like Prozac take a few weeks to work whereas ketamine is a rapid-adapting antidepressant, the benefits of which can be felt almost immediately. A paper in science in 2019 hailed ketamine as one of the greatest advances in psychiatry in 50 years, and it’s hard to disagree with that.”
Having researched it so thoroughly, Celia is delighted that the ketamine-assisted psychotherapy she developed is now available to patients in Awakn’s flagship Bristol, UK clinic.
“One of the important and quite unusual things about Awakn is that it’s conducting clinical trials alongside its treatment of patients,” she concludes. “The advantages of having both under the same roof are enormous. There’s a dynamism about the company, which is really exciting.”