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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Miami-based telemedicine startup NUE Life Health is aiming to become an early leader in combining digital mental health therapy with psychedelics and other mind-altering compounds."

Why it matters: Drugs like ketamine and psilocybin — the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — are showing real promise in addressing mental health disorders.

  • Access to the compounds and the specialized therapy and monitoring they require is a challenge, but using telemedicine could help.

What's happening: Wonderland: Miami, the largest psychedelic medicine conference in the U.S., gets underway this morning, featuring speakers ranging from elite psychopharmacologists to the former boxing champion Mike Tyson, who has reinvented himself as an adviser on mental health.

  • The size of the conference is a sign that psychedelic medicine — long consigned to the edges of science — is entering the mainstream, says Juan Pablo Cappello, the CEO and co-founder of NUE Life Health.
  • "There are hugely promising technologies right now combining psychedelic therapy and AI and wearables," he says.

How it works: NUE Life Health — which is currently operating in California, Texas and Florida, with plans for a nationwide expansion — is developing a digital platform that will offer at-home ketamine therapy.

  • Wearable devices can help provide what Cappello calls "digital phenotyping" on data points like sleep and activity that will produce patient information that goes beyond the self-reporting generally used to guide mental health therapy.
  • "We can assess patients when they start, to get their baseline statistics," says Zayn Hassan, NUE Life Health's chief medical officer and co-founder. "And then after each experience, we can assess them again, see how well they're doing" and tweak further treatment as needed.
  • NUE Life Health says it can bring down the price of ketamine treatment, which can currently cost several hundred dollars per infusion.

Background: Studies are finding increasing evidence that psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin and mind-altering drugs like ketamine or MDMA — when combined with psychotherapy — can get traction against treatment-resistant depression and anxiety, my Axios colleague Alison Snyder writes.

  • Esketamine, a chemical cousin of ketamine, became in 2019 the first new anti-depressant approved by the FDA in 25 years.
  • It's not clear how the drugs work, though one theory is they help encourage the development of neuroplasticity in the severely depressed or anxious brain.
  • The lack of clarity runs into terminology as well — scientists are divided on whether drugs like ketamine are really psychedelics, though treatment with it is usually classified under the "psychedelic medicine" term.

The catch: Drugs like ketamine and MDMA can be misused, and some experts worry about the safety of quickly expanding treatment.

The bottom line: Psychedelic therapy is still in its early days, but combining it with telemedicine could make it easier to scale while gathering more granular data about its effectiveness.

Go deeper

Mental health issues affect nearly 25% of Ohio adults

Expand chart
Data: State of Mental Health in America report; Cartogram: Sara Wise/Axios

Nearly 25% of Ohio adults are experiencing mental health issues, according to nonprofit Mental Health America (MHA). Just three states reported higher figures in 2019.

  • Ohio slid from 11th to 25th in the group's annual mental health rankings, meaning the situation dramatically worsened year-over-year. The scale measures the prevalence of issues as well as access to health care.
Updated 2 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.

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