VICTORIA -- Vancouver Island University (VIU) has been awarded a $50,000 federal grant to develop a psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy program using the drug ketamine.

The program is intended to help frontline health-care workers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or who struggle with treatment-resistant mental health issues.

Renee Alfaro is a registered community health nurse who struggles with PTSD.

"I have suffered from post-traumatic stress for most of my life, from childhood," said Alfaro.

Being on the frontlines of healthcare, she has looked through a lens few do and it’s taken a toll on her mental health.

"When you have post-traumatic stress all of your energy can go into just getting through the day," she said.

But now, her mental health is on the mend after taking part in a treatment program called Roots to Thrive.

"We have combined a community of practice, which is a 12-week program," said Dr. Shannon Dames, Vancouver Island University nursing professor and researcher on the project. "The Roots to Thrive program is a psychedelic-assisted therapy using ketamine."

It’s being called a group healing journey. The first step is to build trust within the group, followed by three psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions.

Once those sessions are over, the work begins to address the traumas that have been discovered.

"People are shedding their depression, PTSD symptoms, even chemical dependencies with very little effort at all," said Dames.

Griffin Russel has also been taking part in the program. He credits his psychedelic experiences in identifying what he didn’t know he was missing.

"On a personal level, just within myself, I recognize that it’s opened up things and allowed me to access things that have been shut off," said Russel, a regional harm reduction coordinator with Island Health. "That has been really pivotal to my healing."

Operators of the program say they hope to eventually expand the program.

"This is meant to be for all humans that have any kind of suffering," said Phil Dames, director of operations with Roots to Thrive. "If we can get this into the health-care system then I believe that would be mission accomplished."

"It’s lifelong work for most of us who have post-traumatic stress," said Alfaro. "But this can really help push you along."