Ketamine Therapy For PTSD: A Solution For Veterans?
Ketamine therapy is currently undergoing its initial stages in treating patients who suffer from several severe mental health issues. This stems from treatment-resistant depression and anxiety disorders including PTSD.
PTSD can develop in anyone who’s undergone particularly traumatizing events. The effect often permanently alters their brain chemistry in a negative manner. Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts, flash backs, low self-esteem, hindered memory, nightmares, and severe anxiety.
Studies show that 13-30 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone screened positive for PTSD. Treating veterans with PTSD can be a delicate effort, as many often internalize the idea that mental health is unimportant. It continues to be a stigma trying to be changed. Tragically, over 6,000 veterans commit suicide every year, according to The National Veteran Suicide Report of 2019.
Those veterans with PTSD who do seek help are generally prescribed mainstream antidepressants or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These tend to take 3-6 weeks to build up in the body before a patient can experience the medication’s effects. They also have discouragingly low success rates. The Psychiatry Advisor says that, while on mainstream antidepressants, about “30- 40 percent of these (anxiety disorder) patients will not achieve remission”. Even when paired with complementary therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), this is true.
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By administering an IV transfer, ketamine therapy sessions often last between 45- 90 minutes. Another way patients currently receive treatment is through a nasal spray of a lower dosage, called esketamine. Unlike the IV treatment, it is already FDA approved.
How Does The Process Work?
Ketamine therapy is beginning to merit acclaim for its ability to produce immediate effects in patients. This, too, is true for veterans suffering from PTSD. These effects are possible by the way in which ketamine interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain. Ketamine targets around 80 percent of the brain’s neurotransmitters — categorized as glutamate and GABA. Most SSRIs only target 20 percent of the brain’s neurotransmitters in an effort to isolate hormones such as serotonin.
Glutamate and GABA control the region of the brain that forms memories and engages in learning. In the case of veterans with PTSD, researchers are currently studying the possibility of using ketamine to help patients reorganize and release traumatic memories. This is a momentous step forward in PTSD treatment. Additionally, no other treatment for PTSD has had the kind of immediate and lasting effects than that of ketamine therapy. Dr. Krystal, one of the leading doctors and researchers of ketamine therapy notes that ketamine “acts rapidly, it’s anti-suicidal, [and] it works for people who don’t respond to other kinds of treatment.”
As with any drug therapy, there is the potential for issues to arise. But luckily there are many ways to deal with these side effects.
Issues With Ketamine Therapy For PTSD In Veterans
The difficulty presents itself in the inaccessibility of ketamine treatments to the average veteran with PTSD. Unfortunately, most insurance policies have yet to cover this type of alternative therapy. Additionally, the long-term effectiveness of ketamine therapy in treating veterans with PTSD remains relatively understudied. Despite these drawbacks, the future of ketamine therapy looks promising. Could this be an invaluable resource for veterans struggling with PTSD? Early results point towards the answer being yes.