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Is Ketamine Addictive? 6 Experts Weigh In

Is Ketamine Addictive? 6 Experts Weigh In

Before receiving ketamine therapy, it’s important to be aware of all the associated risks. One question you might have before undergoing treatment is, “is ketamine addictive?” This is a valid question but it does not have an easy answer. Ketamine has the potential to be addictive. That is unquestionable. And we will turn to this subject in the subsequent discussion. However, when used carefully and by attentive professionals, the likelihood of becoming addicted to ketamine is substantially reduced.

Looking for ketamine therapy? Click here to find top rated ketamine clinics near you

Ketamine’s Addictive Potential

When considering the question, “is ketamine addictive?” we need to answer this in a nuanced way. Yes, ketamine can be addictive, as most drugs can be. But this does not necessarily mean ketamine is highly addictive or that its addictive potential is extremely low.

Firstly, it is worth emphasizing that ketamine’s addictive potential separates it from other psychedelics. For example, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and ibogaine not only have a low risk for abuse and addiction in a clinical context; they can also be incredibly anti-addictive in their effects. There is evidence that ketamine can be useful in the treatment of addiction. However, the substance also carries a much higher risk of addiction than traditional psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms.

That said, it would be wrong to think of ketamine as addictive as a drug like heroin. Based on research carried out by David Nutt, the most addictive substances are heroin, cocaine, nicotine, barbiturates, and alcohol. Ketamine sits in about the mid-range in terms of addictive potential, rated as being only slightly more addictive than cannabis. Nutt and other researchers found “club drugs” like LSD and MDMA (‘ecstasy’) to have a lower potential for addiction.

The potential of becoming addicted to ketamine should still not be underestimated. Those addicted to ketamine may find it difficult to control their use or stop using, despite the negative effects this has on their finances, relationships, social life, and work.

If you still have questions about the risk of ketamine addiction, keep reading. We’ve asked medical experts from across the country to share their thoughts on ketamine’s addictive potential and how that potential is mitigated.

Dr. Steven L. Mandel – Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles

“Ketamine is not addictive. Some people do use it recreationally or to self-medicate, but it is not addictive any more than ice cream or chocolate can be addictive. Users do not develop a physical dependence in the way they do with alcohol, nicotine, opioids, and other commonly used substances. Some may develop a mental association with it as a means of escape, though we do not see that when patients receive IV ketamine in a clinical setting. Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles has provided more than 14,000 infusions over 9 years. We have not had any issues with addiction or misuse. Many patients find the experience pleasant or even enjoyable, but it is not something they crave or seek. Interestingly, many often remark that they don’t understand how people use it on the street, and that it has no appeal to them in that way. Bottom line is clinical ketamine in a physicians office is safe and non-addictive.”

— Dr. Steven L. Mandel, Founder & President of Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles

Dr. Steven L. Mandel, M.D., is an internationally-recognized expert & pioneer in the use of ketamine infusion therapy to treat mental health disorders & chronic pain. Dr. Mandel has more than 40 years of experience utilizing ketamine as a board-certified anesthesiologist. He also earned his master’s degree in psychology. He is the founder & president of Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles, a leading ketamine infusion therapy clinic in Southern California. Dr. Mandel is also founder and first president of ASKP.

Susan Gillispie – Wholistic Health

The answer is twofold when used in low amounts that are used in ketamine therapy, it usually is not addictive. When it is abused as seen when people refer to it as “Special K” yes, it can be very addicting when it is abused just like any other drug that is used recreationally. Patients who receive Ketamine in an office setting that is carefully monitored have a relatively small chance of becoming addicted or even building a tolerance. When Ketamine is used appropriately for health reasons, it is important to assess risk and benefit. We all have had a drink of alcohol, and yes, alcohol, when abused, is addictive; the same goes for Ketamine; it is not always the drug that causes harmful behavior; it is also the environment. Ketamine has a low dependence potential, much lower than both alcohol and nicotine.

— Susan Gillispie, APRN

Susan Gillispie, APRN, is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Wholistic Health in Theodore, Alabama. She specializes in holistic health (by disease prevention) through diet and nutrition. Susan’s Approach to Health: I work closely with you to find nutritional deficiencies. Together, we define your health goals and ways to achieve your optimum health. I believe in the holistic philosophy that the body has an inherent ability to establish, maintain and restore health. There is a healing power of nature and it is important to treat the whole person and not just symptoms. I also believe that prevention is the best cure.

Steve Caddick, PharmD / Neurospa Therapy Centers

Like all controlled substances, ketamine historically does have the potential for abuse when not used in the correct set and setting and under medical/clinical supervision. Unlike opiates, ketamine has more of a psychological dependence and a tolerance buildup (when abused) vs a physical dependence and severe withdrawal symptoms. The safety profile of ketamine when used properly, is well documented over the last 50 years. When prescribed and under clinical supervision in connection with therapy, ketamine is a profound treatment for the rapid recovery of major depression, treatment-resistant depression, and suicidal ideations. There are potentially many more modalities in that ketamine is useful, the most important plan for success is to follow the protocol set forth by your medical team in a controlled environment with the proper support. 

Steve Caddick, PharmD

Ajona Olsen, MSN, APRN, ANP-C – Daytryp Health

“Ketamine does not cause addiction in terms of what we know as a chemical addiction, causing withdrawal symptoms after discontinued use, as we see in substances like opioids, alcohol, nicotine, heroin, and many others. Ketamine can be abused and with excessive use, much greater amounts than medical providers would administer or prescribe, severe cases have shown cognitive/memory decline as well as bladder wall changes/thickening. Ketamine has been in use for over 50 years and has been scientifically proven as a relatively safe medication when used as intended and in a safe and medically supervised setting.

The vast majority of the science and research has shown that ketamine has real, proven, biological and psychological benefits for most people that have tried it, both long term and short term. That will always be the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to drugs of any kind, ketamine or otherwise. I am confident that after years of research and real world results that ketamine can end unnecessary suffering and enhance lives with further integration around the medicine treatment. Ongoing tests and trials will only confirm what neuroscience already knows. As we learn even more about how the brain works, through technological advances in brain imaging and advances in understanding brain biology, the benefits of ketamine and other psychedelic treatments will only improve. Ketamine is not the only solution for mental health issues, but it will be one of the primary and leading ones going forward.”

— Ajona Olsen, MSN, APRN, ANP-C

Ajona Olsen, MSN, APRN, ANP-C began her career in healthcare in 2001 as a registered nurse (RN) in the hospital and in 2006 became a nurse practitioner and continued working in corporate medicine. Her career path changed when she found Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) in 2021 and decided to open her own private practice. Ajona is now collaborating with Daytryp Health – a state of the art Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy clinic in Phoenix, AZ.

Sean McLean – Catalyst Clinic

Ketamine isn’t known to have the same addictive properties as addictive drugs like opioids. Clinically, that’s been our experience as well. At Catalyst Clinic, our patients have not exhibited addictive behaviors. In fact, the vast majority have a goal to extend the amount of time between booster infusions even further. In our opinion, ketamine is not addictive.

— Sean McLean

Sean McLean is a certified Registered Nurse Anesthesiologist. He has over four years of treating mental health conditions with IV Ketamine. He co-founded Catalyst Clinic, a Ketamine IV Infusion and Functional Medicine clinic.

Dr. Muneer A. Ali – KetaDash

“With controlled doses of ketamine, patients can be lifted out of feeling suicidal and depressed in a relatively short time frame. This has led to the rise of ketamine clinics across the US, where medically supervised treatments occur. However, the very reason ketamine is appealing as a novel therapeutic is also a caution for potential abuse, namely its rapid onset and effect. Just as there are already systems in place to limit and control other treatments with abuse potential, such as benzodiazepine and stimulant medications, there needs to be more oversight with ketamine.

Ketadash takes this caution into consideration and has committed to administering ketamine therapy in a medically supervised setting. Through innovation, we have found ways to maintain the highest standard of care with ketamine while also improving access through the flexibility of mobile treatments. Ketadash also offers ketamine sessions combined with psychotherapy, so patients can make the most of the treatment experience and realize further benefit.

While research is ongoing, ketamine’s prospects as a mainstream treatment option remain promising. At Ketadash, we are making this exciting and novel treatment more accessible to patients in need and are committed to accomplishing that by the safest and most effective means possible.”

— Dr. Muneer A. Ali

Dr. Muneer A. Ali is a double board-certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist in clinical practice with Amen Clinics Inc, where he serves as Associate Medical Director. He takes a special interest in the clinical use of advanced diagnostics in Psychiatry, including functional brain imaging, novel biomarkers, and pharmacogenomics. Dr. Ali has years of experience treating complex neuropsychiatric cases with the use of advanced therapeutic techniques and treats patients from all across the southeastern region of the United States who travel to seek his expertise. He has also been sought out as a clinical advisor to various health organizations and serves on the medical advisory board at Ketadash.

Dr. Ali received his Doctor of Medicine from Nova Southeastern University and performed his postgraduate residency at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he completed a Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and served as Chief Fellow. In addition to his professional accolades, Dr. Ali was an Assistant Clinical Instructor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and taught graduate level courses on the topic of psychopharmacology. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and continues to contribute to the advancement of the field with his involvement in research, as well as speaking engagements across the country educating clinicians on his work with advanced diagnostics.

Ketamine Addiction Mirrors That Of Cannabis

Ketamine addiction is more psychological in nature than physical, which is similar to cannabis addiction but different from, say, opioid addiction. The latter can involve physical dependence, resulting in physical withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use.

When you are psychologically addicted to ketamine, you crave the substance and when you go without it, you can experience psychological withdrawal symptoms (e.g. strong cravings, anxiety, and loss of pleasure). As with other forms of addiction, people addicted to ketamine will take higher dosages of the compound to achieve the desired effects. This is a result of tolerance to ketamine. You should be wary of this pattern since researchers have linked excessive ketamine use to bladder damage. Indeed, ketamine addiction can lead to serious organ damage in a way that is not present with a potentially psychologically addictive substance like cannabis. Many people will continue to use ketamine despite significant negative effects on their physical and mental health. This is a sign of ketamine addiction.

Why is Ketamine Addictive?

Now that we have seen the addictive potential of ketamine, it’s now worth turning to the question of why ketamine is addictive. Ketamine, like many other drugs, can turn into a form of escapism. As a dissociative drug, ketamine can separate you from your sense of self and the world, and, in turn, all the problems you are dealing with. It is true that ketamine therapy can help patients overcome or manage emotional problems like depression, yet it can equally become a way to avoid painful feelings. This is different from the classic psychedelics, which have a tendency to make you confront difficult emotions.

The risk of addiction increases if you take ketamine outside of a clinical context. When you use ketamine on your own, with as much supply as you can afford, your usage can get out of control. If you discover that ketamine can alleviate the pain of anxiety, depression, grief, and low self-worth, then you may use ketamine more often, which will require higher doses over time to achieve the same effect. And needing high doses can become a form of addiction.

As well as dampening negative emotions, ketamine can also increase positive feelings like euphoria and contentment. The appeal of these positive states can also make it tempting to become a frequent ketamine user.

As with other addictions, ketamine addiction is often tied to factors unrelated to the drug. This is why it’s crucial to examine why you want to use ketamine. If you are genuinely interested in using ketamine therapeutically, then you should consider ketamine therapy, rather than self-medicating.

Looking for ketamine therapy? Click here to find top rated ketamine clinics near you

Ketamine Therapy and the Risk of Addiction

Here, we should also point out that ketamine therapy does not eliminate the risk of ketamine addiction. Indeed, some clinical reports indicate that repeated infusions of low doses of ketamine may have addictive properties. Make sure you discuss with a psychiatrist specializing in ketamine how many infusions you might have. If you want to mitigate the risks of addiction, then it’s worth weighing the risks and benefits of ketamine therapy. In some cases, it may be sensible to opt for a low number of ketamine infusions, or a single one to judge your reaction.

Clinic Spotlight: Ketamine Wellness Clinic – Laguna Beach, California

Ketamine Abuse Potential

Clinical reports have also found that adolescent and adult women may be more vulnerable to ketamine’s addictive properties. But of course, adult men are susceptible to ketamine addiction as well. Whatever your background, if you are someone who has struggled with substance abuse or addiction, or you’re currently experiencing these issues, then you should consult with a doctor or psychiatrist about the risks of ketamine-assisted therapy.

Should I Be Concerned Trying Ketamine Treatment?

Make sure you are as informed as possible before starting any new therapy. If you are worried about the possibility of getting addicted to ketamine following treatment, you can ease your concerns by getting as many professional opinions as you can. You should find a ketamine clinic where you can have an in-depth consultation before signing up for any treatment plan. The psychiatrist you meet should be willing to discuss risks like addiction in a comprehensive manner, as well as highlight how they work to minimize these risks. You should also disclose whether you have a personal history of addiction. It may turn out that ketamine therapy could help you overcome an addiction, rather than add a new one to the mix.

It’s important that a ketamine therapy provider treats your safety and health with the utmost care and respect. This means avoiding any recommended treatment without detailing all the benefits and risks beforehand. Many high-quality ketamine clinics exist and, in general, patients using these clinics avoid addiction issues as a result of treatment. When administered diligently, ketamine infusions can be a safe and low-risk form of mental health treatment.

Ketamine Therapy Clinic Spotlights:
Quad Cities Ketamine Clinic – Davenport, Iowa
Relievus Pain Management – Havertown, Pennsylvania
Redemption Psychiatry – Phoenix, Arizona
Advanced Infusion and Wellness Center – Wichita, Kansas
Integrative Pain Management – De Pere, Wisconsin
Florida Spine Institute – Clearwater, Florida
Advanced Pain Relief Institute – Boerne, Texas
The Anderson Clinic – Cincinnati, Ohio
Prizm Pain Management Clinic – Belleville, Michigan

Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

Abid Nazeer

This post was medically approved by Abid Nazeer

Dr. Nazeer is the Founder and President of APS Ketamine/Advanced Psychiatric Solutions, which he established in 2016 as the first psychiatric outpatient ketamine clinic in Illinois. He is board certified in Psychiatry as well as Addiction Medicine. He completed his psychiatry residency at Louisiana State University Health Sciences in Shreveport where he held the role of Chief Resident. Dr. Nazeer is providing medical oversight to the growth plan of Wesana Clinics, with the model of comprehensive psychiatry clinics specialized ketamine and psychedelic therapies, integrated brain health and wellness centers, and technology utilization of Wesana Solutions remote patient monitoring product.

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