Innovation Showcase Recap: Ketamine and Psychedelics for Mental Health

Explore the transformative use of ketamine and psychedelics in mental health treatment at Business Group on Health's Innovation Showcase.


February 13, 2024

The latest installment of the Innovation Showcase Series for Business Group on Health members provided an in-depth exploration of ketamine and psychedelics as emerging treatments in mental health care. This session offered employers insights into innovative treatments that could transform mental health and well-being benefits.

The showcase centered on the therapeutic use of psychedelics and ketamine, engaging researchers, innovators, clinicians and patient advocates in the field. The discussion focused on the evidence behind current applications of ketamine and psychedelics in mental health treatment, their safety and efficacy profiles, the potential future of these treatments and issues that employers should keep in mind when assessing this field.

This is a complex and new concept for many, so learn more here!

This recap scratches the surface of the interesting and pertinent things to know about ketamine and psychedelics, which may soon become Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, but are already in use, often under the radar. Check out these Business Group on Health Resources on the subject.

Several key themes and insights emerged from the Innovation Showcase discussion:

1 | Evolving considerations in mental health solutions

A revealing poll at the event's start showed that for half of the audience, this was the very first time they learned about clinical applications for ketamine and psychedelics. This interest in therapies that are stigmatized and associated with “party drugs” is significant and speaks to promising results from research studies and the growing concern about ongoing mental health needs of the workforce. 

2 | Beyond stigma to cost-saving solutions

In a compelling discussion led by an expert on the economics of psychedelics, participants learned about the therapeutic and economic potential of ketamine and psychedelics for mental health treatment. Highlighting specific case studies, the speaker illustrated how psychedelic-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) not only proved to be cost-effective (by reducing symptoms, improving productivity, and alleviating the need for lifelong antidepressants) but is also projected to produce significant long-term savings for health plans based on analyses of phase 2 and 3 clinical trial data. 

3 | From theory to practice

Leaders from innovator companies shared their firsthand experiences about the benefits of using psychedelic therapies to treat PTSD, sharing how these therapies are delivered to patients. Key takeaways included the importance of pre-screening for eligibility and posttreatment “integration” sessions with these therapies to ensure lasting impacts. Additionally, it’s important to screen providers for adherence to clinical evidence and safety standards. While these therapies demonstrate promise, it's important to acknowledge they often fall outside the scope of core medical benefits plans. There are several reasons for this, including the still-evolving legal landscape surrounding psychedelics and, in some cases, the "off-label" use of medications approved for other purposes. This means accessing these therapies can be more challenging and potentially require out-of-pocket expenses. 

4 | Digging into employer considerations

One panelist with deep experience advising health plans and employers regarding questions of clinical appropriateness discussed the strategic implications of psychedelic therapies for employers. Top employer considerations included:

  • Working with partners to keep tabs on FDA approvals for forthcoming therapies and off-label use of ketamine, which has FDA approval only for anesthesia but is commonly prescribed for treatment-resistant depression and PTSD;
  • Assessing organizational willingness to embrace treatments that have been stigmatized or, in many cases, are illegal;
  • Recognizing the burden of serious mental illness among plan members and the implications of not providing access to potentially life-changing therapies for conditions that have often been unmanageable with existing treatments currently available;
  • Being aware of areas outside the U.S. where psychedelic therapies are currently or potentially embraced clinically, including Australia, Mexico and several South American countries; and
  • Monitoring the clinical protocols providers use for ensuring the appropriateness, safety and quality of treatment, which are still evolving among clinical societies.

5 | Evolving regulatory realities and the path toward FDA approvals

Addressing the complexities of the current regulatory environment, a policy expert provided insights into navigating the legal landscape for ketamine and psychedelics. Advocates are focused on securing additional funding for research, “reclassifying” psychedelics so they are not treated as having “no clinical value,” and FDA approvals, which appear imminent for some treatments. The policy expert stressed the importance of staying informed about state and federal regulations, which can vary widely and impact the availability of treatments. 

Ultimately, the Innovation Showcase on Ketamine and Psychedelics for Mental Health Treatment provided a vital dialogue on the incorporation of these emerging treatments into employer-sponsored health plans. While recognizing the potential transformative impact on mental health care, the showcase also acknowledged the complexities, including regulatory approval, cost considerations and the importance of ensuring safe and ethical treatment. This event marks a step toward understanding and potentially integrating innovative mental health treatments into broader health and well-being strategies.

For access to a recording of the showcase, please click here.

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  1. Evolving considerations in mental health solutions
  2. Beyond stigma to cost-saving solutions
  3. From theory to practice
  4. Digging into employer considerations
  5. Evolving regulatory realities and the path toward FDA approvals