The CDC estimates a third of the country is depressed as the pandemic rages on. KetaMD is fighting for an alternative solution.

KetaMD is surely one of the most bizarre companies (and their product among the most compelling) to emerge from the pandemic. The first online ketamine clinic to offer prescriptions over video calls is positioned to open this year.

Once best understood as a veterinary anesthetic and rave drug, ketamine has been making a Arnold Schwarzenegger-style career pivot as a revolutionary treatment for depression and anxiety. Though it has a rich history of success as a sedative for children in emergency rooms and in speeding pain relief for combat casualty care, it is just beginning to work its way into mainstream as a mental health treatment. This change in reputation is in part thanks to the work of Mike ‘Zappy’ Zapolin, an infomercial star turned Wall Street banker turned psychedelic concierge. After making a name for himself (and millions of dollars) as a domain name pioneer in the dot com boom, Zapolin turned his attention to maximizing the potential of ketamine. His success in conscious transformations was made famous by his clientele, including basketball legend Lamar Odom, who insists the concierge can be credited with driving his journey in overcoming addiction, anxiety, and past trauma. Zapolin, alongside Warren Gumpel (who is also the proud owner of a pizzeria in Shanghai), founded the Ketamine Fund which has provided more than 400 free ketamine treatments to veterans who suffer from PTSD. Now, they hope to take advantage of the public health crisis that has lifted restrictions on prescribing controlled substances over telemedicine.

Ketamine itself is cheap, which is extremely cool when you consider the costs of depression and anxiety treatment: expensive medications that make you feel like an emotionless blob, the gym membership you probably won’t use that’s supposed to give you structure and endorphins, out-of-network therapy, a self-imposed forced night out with friends you don’t like all that much who have pricey taste in restaurants. With most antidepressants, the anti-anxiety effect lasts only as long as it is in your system. Ketamine enables brain connections to regrow, providing opportunity for new and better thoughts and behaviors. The problem with ketamine is that while it is shockingly affordable, infusions of it are not. Costs rack up quickly as intravenous treatments for depression are generally priced from $400 to $800. These prices mostly reflect the time of a nurse to monitor you and a doctor on-call in case things go wrong (6-12% of patients experience side effects ranging from dysphoria to arrhythmias). Patients usually start at six treatments over the course of two to three weeks, making it largely unaffordable. The rats from your insurance company likely won’t cover it because they consider it experimental, even if your doctor doesn’t. Why? Because the rats from the drug companies don’t invest in studies of medications that cost as little as ketamine.

By moving online, KetaMD hopes to extend the reach of ketamine and its fast acting effects to more people. Though the price point for their treatment remains elusive, their mission does not. “We know that many Americans are struggling with mental health right now. Help is on the way,” their website promises.