Legal psychedelic-enhanced therapy, mindfulness and self-care are blended with a series of sessions with trained psychotherapists in a comfortable spa-like environment that promotes healing. Photo Courtesy of Field Trip Health

Local psychedelic clinic helps patients access a better life

By Bridgette M. Redman

A cross between a clinic and a spa, a therapy office and a lounge, Field Trip Health is Los Angeles’ first legal psychedelic clinic.

Combining ancient wisdom and rituals with modern research and scientific evidence about psychedelics, Field Trip Health offers treatment for such challenges as post-traumatic stress disorder and treatment-resistant depression. They have nine clinics around the world with the one in Santa Monica being the first in California.

Angel Cortes, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 1st Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, found the treatments to be life changing, something that he said made him into a better father, husband and person. He learned about the therapy from a Navy Seal friend of his, Mike O’Dowd, whom he met at a shooting range.

“One day, he brought up the therapy and told me what it had done for him,” Cortes said. “But I wasn’t ready to do it for a while.”

In summer 2020, Cortes started helping out at a printshop where he had worked in the past. He noticed that there was something different about the guys working there — they seemed more mellow. The told him it was because they were all doing DMT together.

DMT, or N-dimethyltryptamine, is a hallucinogenic psychedelic drug similar to LSD and magic mushrooms. It is illegal to make, buy, possess or distribute it in the United States,, though some cities have recently decriminalized it including Oakland and Santa Cruz; and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Cortes said he tried it twice, but then the person who supplied it moved to Wisconsin and his connection was cut off.

“I did the DMT and I remember that a layer of anxiety was taken off, so that really sparked my interest in psychedelics,” Cortes said.

For a while, he tried magic mushrooms. He shared these experiences with O’Dowd, who encouraged him to try the ketamine therapy at Field Trip Health.

Cortes is the founder and owner of OG Pumpkin, a clothing and lifestyle brand that donates the proceeds to fund veteran initiatives.

In early summer, Field Trip Health sponsored one of his events.

They came and talked to a group of veterans about their programs. That was when Cortes decided he was ready for the treatment.

Program for ketamine treatments

Ketamine has been used as anesthesia medicine for animals and people since the 1960s. According to WebMD, it was used to treat injured soldiers in Vietnam battlefields. Because it doesn’t slow down breathing or heart rates, patients don’t need to be on a ventilator to receive it.

In recent years, it has been researched as a treatment for depression, and medical protocols using it have seen a great deal of success. The use of a nasal spray has been FDA approved for the treatment of depression, but many doctors are using infusions, which is what is done at Field Trip Health.

The programs start with an initial consultation in which the patient meets with a therapist for an initial psychiatric consultation to discuss their past physical and mental health history and goals for the treatment. The therapy is introduced, and the therapist and patient discuss consent and safety.

The second part of the program is the psychedelic exploration, which can be done alone or as part of a group experience.

When the patient is comfortable, the therapeutic team will administer a low dose of the psychedelic medicine.

Depending on the patient’s response, more may be administered. Afterward, the patients will speak with therapists about their experiences.

The third step in the program is an integration session in which a therapist works with the patient to understand their experience and translate their new awareness into life practices.

Subsequent sessions are typically designed to include more psychedelic exploration with follow-up integration.

The treatment is not available to anyone with an allergy to ketamine, recent traumatic brain injury or a history of psychosis.

Other contraindications can be discussed with the therapists.

The introductory package that includes one psychedelic exploration is $750. Subsequent sessions are $750 for the psychedelic exploration, $250 for a full integration session and reduced rates for group sessions.

They also offer payment plans.

Veteran experiences intense first session

Cortes said that when he first arrived at Field Trip Health, the therapist asked him what he wanted to get out of it. He replied that he wanted to be a better human being. The therapist pressed, asking him what that would look like, what it would do for his everyday relationships.

“I thought I would get cheat codes to life or just be better,” Cortes said.

“In a way I got that, but the journey or the trip itself took me in a different direction that really impacted my life in a positive way.”

The day of the exploration session, Cortes spent the morning at the range where he and Mike teach SWAT teams. When he arrived at the Santa Monica clinic, he said everything immediately changed.

“You can just feel the energy was calm,” Cortes said.

“Just walking in, I felt more relaxed. I was greeted by the physical examiner who checked my blood pressure and heart rate.”

Once Cortes got out of the session with the therapist, O’Dowd was in the lobby waiting for him.

He joined other veterans in a room where they lay down on individual mats that he said were like a human-sized pillow.

“They put a weighted blanket on you and then a face mask,” Cortes said.

“It’s calming. There’s no noise, you don’t hear the traffic from outside. There is music playing.”

He said that when the therapist came and asked him if he was ready, he was so nervous that he just nodded.

They gave him 25 mg and he was able to feel it almost immediately.

First, he couldn’t feel the weighted blanket or the face mask, then he couldn’t feel his back on the ground, then he couldn’t feel his body at all. The therapist asked him if he was OK and whether he wanted to go deeper. Cortes said yes and the therapist asked whether he wanted a little or a lot. He said a lot, so they gave him 65 mg more.

“When that hit, it hit hard,” Cortes said. “I remember seeing a bunch of shapes and colors forming. Then I started thinking about my family, specifically my two oldest kids. I had missed so much of their lives because I was on active duty when my son was born and I was in Afghanistan when my daughter was born.”

As the experience grew more intense, Cortes started questioning his reality, wondering whether he had dreamed a life, wondering what he might be without a human form. Then, little by little, his awareness returned. He was able to start feeling his back on the ground, the face mask and the weighted blanket. After a few more minutes, he moved a finger.

“When I blinked, I felt a tear drop,” Cortes said. “It wasn’t just one tear, it was multiple tears. At one point, I had started crying. When I took off the face mask, Mike was there nodding. He was so happy for me and I was like, I get it now. I get why he was so for this type of therapy.”

Improving relationships

Cortes slept a lot for the rest of the day, but when he awoke, his wife was making breakfast. He asked her to set aside the cooking for a moment.

“I sat her down and I told her I thought about my family in the journey,” Cortes said. “It really hit me that we were about to be married for 12 years and I messed up a lot of years. I put her and the family second. It was always the career. Sometimes it was third — the career and then the guys from the unit and then the family. I told her I really hated how much I missed of a lot of things. I told her I was sorry and that I really want all of the family to get to know each other.”

He had a second journey two days later that was more mellow. This time, his wife and kids picked him up at the clinic. He said he got into the passenger seat and then turned around to look in the back seat and address his kids. He told them about how he missed their births, their birthdays, their first steps, their first words and that he didn’t like that. He didn’t like that he didn’t really know them.

“I told them, I want to get to know you guys during this vacation and the summer,” Cortes said. “I want to know what makes you and have quality time. As I was saying this, my son started crying. He said, ‘I’m happy that you’re saying this.’”

In addition to his family life improving, Cortes noticed other changes. He no longer drinks alcohol. The bag of mushrooms in his house went to waste because he didn’t need it. His time on his phone and social media decreased. When it comes to tasks around the house, he’s become more aware of them and does them without being asked to.

“Things that used to bug me don’t anymore,” Cortes said. “It was clear what mattered and what didn’t matter. I enjoy everything a lot more.”

Field Trip Health
1538 20th Street, Santa Monica