As therapeutic uses of psychedelics gain more mainstream popularity, the veteran NFL wide receiver underwent ketamine-assisted therapy at Field Trip Health.
Kenny Stills was in awe of the massive pyramids and temples that towered over him. Suddenly, a shadowy figure wearing a wolf headdress appeared and began ascending high into the sky. Stills, now himself flying overhead, had a bird’s-eye view of more temples surrounded by a lush jungle of greenery. Finally inside one of the gigantic edifices, he stood still shrouded by total darkness.
“At that point, I asked the therapist if she was still in the room, and she came over and held my hand,” Stills told Boardroom, “and that was it and my experience was over.”
The veteran NFL wide receiver had just undergone his first ketamine-assisted therapy exploration session at Field Trip Health, a psychedelic therapy company.
What is Ketamine?
Marketed in the United States since the 1970s, ketamine is a short-acting “dissociative anesthetic” with hallucinogenic effects that makes users feel detached from their feelings and environment, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency.
Today, companies like Field Trip Health and Cedar Psychiatry are utilizing the drug to help treat anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019 approved Spravato, which contains a ketamine derivative called esketamine, as the first prescription nasal spray taken with an oral antidepressant for adults with treatment-resistant depression.
While ketamine is the only legal psychedelic in the US, others including MDMA and psilocybin could gain FDA approval as well.
The psychedelic renaissance is currently underway. And it’s going mainstream.
NUE Life Health, a US-based telemedicine startup building a mental wellness platform combining psychedelic-assisted therapy and a graph database-driven app, raised $23 million in Series A funding in April led by Ev Williams’ Obvious Ventures. The FDA in January authorized German psychedelics startup Atai Life Sciences to conduct a clinical trial on a non-psychedelic form of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression.
Bob Parsons, the billionaire founder of GoDaddy, donated $5 million to Mount Sinai’s psychedelic research center and another $2 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). According to Forbes, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, hedge fund billionaire and New York Mets owner Steven Cohen, entrepreneur/author Tim Ferriss, WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, and TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie donated $17 million to build the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelics and Consciousness Research.
Well, studies from Johns Hopkins, New York University, Yale, and Imperial College London have shown therapeutic potential of psychedelics to combat depression, end-of-life anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), PTSD and alcohol and nicotine dependence in a total mental health market worth an estimated $100 billion in annual sales. Pharmaceutical and biotech analysts estimate FDA-approved psychedelic-assisted therapy could capture $10 billion in annual sales by targeting the treatment-resistant depression subcategory alone.
Kenny Stills’ Trip
Stills’ wellness journey began in 2016. As one of the few NFL players to stand in support of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who kneeled during the national anthem to raise awareness and conversation around police brutality and racial injustice in the country, Stills was thrust into the national spotlight.
The outspoken receiver who played for the New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins, and Houston Texans, later called out Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for his relationship with former President Donald Trump, who vehemently verbally attacked athletes for kneeling during the anthem. Stills, who received death threats for doing so, was one of 87 protesters arrested in 2020 in Louisville following the killing of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
All of that, coupled with addressing his childhood adversity and feeling unable to reciprocate love in his relationship with his then-partner left Stills helpless and unfulfilled — despite the fact that he had seemingly checked every box in his life in graduating college, playing in the NFL, and supporting his family.
“I did all the things we think would provide us some sort of joy and fulfillment and I was still feeling just empty and not really proud of myself, who I was, and the things I had done,” he says. “It was this perfect storm where I felt I needed to get help because I couldn’t do it on my own. I didn’t like the way I was feeling. I didn’t like how I was treating other people and it was time for something to change.”
The first thing Stills did was get his brain scanned to see if there were any particularly malignant effects from two decades of playing football. After doctors determined that his imaging checked out, he began talking to a therapist to help address being diagnosed with depression. The 30-year-old who starred at the University of Oklahoma also started working with a life coach focused on mindset.
Having prior experience with psychedelics including psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and different forms of MDMA, Stills underwent his first ketamine-assisted therapy session at a Field Trip facility in Los Angeles during the Saints’ bye week in mid-October last season.
Following consultation and preparation sessions with a licensed therapist, Field Trip patients then undergo the ketamine-assisted therapy session at one of their locations across the US, Canada, or Europe.
Patients sit or lay back comfortably in a recliner with a weighted blanket, eye mask, and headset. They are injected with a dose of ketamine appropriate to their tolerance and begin their inward journey while being supervised by a therapist and nurse practitioner. After the exploration session, patients have a follow-up with the therapist to discuss their journey, feelings, and emotions, and can repeat the steps over a course of treatment which typically involves four to six exploration sessions.
For Stills, his session helped him not only continue to get in touch with his emotions, but served as a reminder of how powerful of a leader he is—something friends and observers have witnessed as he’s spoken up about countless societal issues over the years.
“The experience I had was detailed, and just very uplifting and encouraging from the place I was already in,” Stills says. “I’ve done a really good job of getting to a place of arming myself with the tools to handle life’s stresses and adversities.
“I’m happy to say I’m in a good place.”