Is Ketamine Therapy Right For You? Here’s What To Know

Is Ketamine Therapy Right For You? Here’s What To Know

Is ketamine therapy right for you? With the psychedelics treatment emerging, this may be something you’re exploring as an alternative option. But you might not fully understand what it is.

Ketamine is an anesthetic agent, or something that decreases pain and creates an out-of-body state. It is most famously given to tigers to sedate them for various purposes, but it actually has had a large role in use in humans for some 50 years.

Gaining FDA approval in the 1970s for pharmaceutical purposes, ketamine was a field anesthetic for soldiers during the Vietnam War.

More recently, ketamine has become increasingly popular for its fast-acting mental health benefits. This is specifically true when it comes to depression and anxiety, per research from the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is part of a group of synthetically-derived compounds called cyclohexylamines, explains Daniel Goldberg, co-founder of Palo Santo, a U.S.-based investment fund supporting innovative, psychedelic-based and adjacent therapies. “It comes in a white-, off white- or light brown-powdered form and has a similar appearance to cocaine and causes hallucinatory or dissociative effects that are relatively short in duration — lasting anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes,” he says.

The discovery of ketamine goes all the way back to the 1950s at Parke-Davis and Company’s laboratories in Detroit, Michigan.

“At that time, Parke-Davis was searching among cyclohexylamines for an ‘ideal’ anesthetic agent with analgesic properties that was less potent, less addictive and of considerably shorter duration of action than PCP, particularly with regard to psychic problematic effects,” explains Goldberg.

“After being patented by Parke-Davis for human and animal use in 1966, ketamine became available by prescription in 1969. Under the name of Ketalar, it was officially approved for human consumption by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1970.”

Since then, countless studies have supported the large-scale benefits of ketamine, and it still remains widely used as an anesthetic today. Ketamine has also shown positive results managing manage pain, treating depression and reducing epileptic systems.

How Does Ketamine Work?

Ketamine therapy works differently from most antidepressants, which broadens its horizons when it comes to treatment options.

Instead of working via the monoamine pathways in the brain and targeting neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, ketamine works directly on the brain to block the NMDA signals. This, Goldberg explains, allows the brain to create new pathways and synapses. Thereby, it aides the healing of past injury or illness.

Ketamine also blocks glutamate, a neurotransmitter that plays a fundamental role in managing your memories and emotions.

Uses In Modern Medicine Today

Despite its reasonably long history of use, ketamine is still gaining significant traction in modern medicine today. Although it is only FDA-approved as a general anesthetic for diagnostic and surgical procedures, here is a closer look at some of its uses. This will help determine if ketamine therapy is right for you.

“Ketamine has been traditionally used as an anesthetic to create a state of dissociation. This prevents patients from feeling pain during surgical procedures,” Goldberg explains. “With proper use, ketamine does not have a significant effect on breathing rate or blood pressure. This makes it safe for use in surgery, as many other drugs that produce a sedating effect can decrease your blood pressure, which can lead to complications.”

As An Anesthetic

This is the most common way to use it. It’s also the only FDA-approved use for ketamine today. For this reason, health care providers prefer this type of anesthetic while using the drug.

“As an anesthetic, ketamine has less effect on the respiratory system and stimulates the circulatory system. This may greatly decrease the chances of breathing, heart and blood pressure complications during surgery,” says Quinntarah Maxwell, M.A., L.M.H.C, licensed psychedelic therapist with Manhattan Alternative in New York City. “Thanks to its rapid onset, ketamine is also great for battlefield injuries where emergency surgery is needed.”

For Sedation

In lower doses, ketamine has use for sedation.

“It is able to suppress the central nervous system. This makes it a suitable application for protection against septic shock and seizures,” says Maxwell.

To Treat Depression

Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the specific use for mental health disorders, such as depression. However recent research by the American Psychological Association (APA) published in the journal Special Communication discusses how many doctors are prescribing it off-label as a treatment. Studies support the use for depression, including one February, 2000 piece from the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“Studies show that ketamine works for up to 75 percent of people who use it therapeutically. In contrast, classic psychotropic medication only carries a 20 percent success rate,” Maxwell points out.

As a result, several pharmaceutical giants are testing ketamine’s ability to aid in alleviating symptoms of depression.

Helping With Addiction

Ketamine is also seeing research as a potential treatment for addition.

“In conjunction with therapy, ketamine enables psychotherapists to create breakthroughs that are (typically) very challenging to overcome,” says Goldberg.

“Additionally, with its effects on the NMDA receptor, it may control epileptic seizures,” Goldberg adds.

Is Ketamine Therapy Right For You?

So, is ketamine therapy right for you?

If you are someone with chronic depression and haven’t seen results via other treatment, ketamine therapy may be beneficial.

“Research shows that many people who have treatment-resistant depression (commonly defined as a lack of adequate response to at least two oral medications) have a positive response to ketamine treatment.” This is according to Tyson Lippe, M.D., psychiatrist based in Austin, Texas and affiliated with Heading Health.

Someone may use it if benefits from transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy do not occur. This is because ketamine works differently than those treatments.

Unlike other forms of treatment, ketamine tends to be fast-acting, so it can lead to quicker results. “Many people feel hopeless and helpless and have exhausted other avenues of therapeutic relief,” adds Maxwell. “Traditional forms of therapy can be long and drawn out, often pulling on emotional wells that have long been empty.”

If suffering from PTSD, ketamine therapy may also prove to be beneficial for you.

“Due to the calming effects that ketamine has on the body, a person can recall traumatic experiences within a non-activated body. This allows for examination and processing of traumatic events in a safe space,” says Maxwell. “Ketamine has been effective in people with racial trauma, combat trauma, and sexual abuse trauma.”

The Effectiveness Of Ketamine Therapy May Vary

It is worth pointing out, however, that ketamine is not for everyone. Therefore, be sure to speak with a healthcare provider or mental health professional before experimenting with it.

“People with a history of high blood pressure, heart problems, liver disease, and people who are pregnant or on certain medications should not take ketamine,” notes Maxwell. “Additionally, ketamine can be addictive. So never mix it with other mind-altering substances like alcohol.”

When seeking a healthcare provider for a prescription for ketamine, Maxwell recommends making sure they are reputable.

“When under the influence of psychedelics, you’re more vulnerable. For this reason, make sure you’ll be under the care of someone trustworthy,” she says. “Additionally, high doses of ketamine can result in decreased breathing, muscle spasms, dizziness, vomiting, impaired vision, confusion, and slurred speech.”

When considering ketamine treatment, Maxwell recommends paying very close attention to the set and setting.

“The set is your mindset — your feelings, thoughts, mood, intentions, personality, etc. — and acts as your guide. The setting is the environment (physical, cultural, social) where you journey,” she says. “Set and setting are important, because ketamine is a suggestive medicine. This means that what you’re around, thinking, and feeling will impact where the medicine will take you.”

How To Research Options

Overall, the future is looking very bright in the ketamine-healing sphere. In fact, most wellness professionals have excitement for all of its potential. Despite this, access to the drug is still quite a challenge.

“Fortunately, exciting developments are creating opportunities for mental health professionals to work with ketamine with their own clients,” says Goldberg. “Journey Clinical focuses on decentralizing and democratizing psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. This is empowering individual counselors to help clients do psychedelics while staying in their home practices.”

Local ketamine clinics provide a safe environment, where patients have relationships with their healers. From dosing to the training, this is a good way to determine if ketamine therapy is right for you.

“We are also seeing exciting innovation within the clinic model, with Field Trip Health recently announcing the launch of the ‘Kap Co-Operative’ program. This enables independent psychedelic therapists to practice at their locations,” Goldberg adds.

“I think it’s a great move, and will really help a lot of people discover ketamine.”

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Jenn Sinrich

View all posts by Jenn Sinrich

Jenn Sinrich is a freelance editor, writer and content strategist located in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her BA in journalism from Northeastern University and has more than a decade of experience working for a myriad of female-focused publications including SELF, Parents, Women's Health, BRIDES, Martha Stewart Weddings and more. When she's not putting pen to paper (or, really, fingers to keyboard), she's enjoying the most precious moments in life with her husband and daughter.

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