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Ketamine for Depression

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a short-acting anesthesia medicine used by medical professionals as well as veterinarians. In the 1960s, Ketamine was introduced in Belgium as an anesthetic for animals. Four years later, the FDA authorized it for humans—specifically to treat wounded soldiers in the Vietnam War. Labeled as a Schedule III non-narcotic drug in 1999, the FDA strictly approved it for anesthetic purposes in medical procedures. As time has gone by and tests have been done, doctors are beginning to prescribe it for off-label uses—like depression and suicidal ideation. 

Ketamine is accessible as an IV injection or nasal spray, either in an off-white or white powder or a clear liquid. Spravato is a type of ketamine that generates quick, effective results and is only accessible intranasally—also known as Esketamine. Dissociative drugs, like ketamine or dextromethorphan (DXM), can alter one’s perception of sound and sight, causing users to detach themselves from their surroundings. Within a safe and recommended dosage, ketamine is not known to be dangerous or uncomfortable—however, for the young adults that are using ketamine as a club drug and cross-mixing it with other substances, that might not be the case.

There are multiple ways that ketamine can be consumed—orally, intranasally, intravenously (IV), and intramuscular (IM). Injecting ketamine intravenous or intramuscular produces the quickest response within seconds to minutes. Nasal administration (intranasally or snorting) is the most common form of abuse—producing effects anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes. Lastly, the response from oral consumption takes anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. 

Ketamine Side Effects

Hallucinogens are commonly known for altering the way we perceive ourselves as well as our surroundings—often producing distorted sensations or hallucinations, hence the name. Ketamine, a hallucinogenic drug, is primarily used as a sedative for medical anesthesia or amnesia to administer pain relief and short-term memory loss. Side effects of Ketamine—short-term or long-term—will depend on whether the consumer is using the recommended dose prescribed to them or abusing it.

Listed below are the short-term and long-term effects when ketamine is abused:

  • Short-term effects may include memory loss, unresponsive, increased blood pressure, distorted thinking, slowed breathing, and hallucinations.
  • Long-term effects can consist of kidney problems, abdominal pain, impaired memory, bladder ulcers and pain, and depression.

When ketamine is consumed as prescribed by medical professionals, the side effects are much less severe and dangerous.

Common side effects may include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Reduced awareness
  • Dissociation
  • Inability to feel pain
  • Muddled speech
  • Colorful dreams
  • Out-of-body experience (OBE)
  • Heightened power and stamina
  • Imaginative state
  • Motionlessness

As previously mentioned, many individuals use ketamine for medical or personal purposes in order to elicit a sense of euphoria and relief associated with the hallucinogens. In addition, studies are showing that more and more people are seeing improvements in depression as well as suicidal ideation and behaviors. Medical professionals have witnessed the advancements and are starting to prescribe for off-label usage in cases such as this.

How Can Ketamine Be Used for Depression?

Studies are indicating that ketamine, when used in moderation and as recommended, can be used as a considerable substitute for antidepressants. “Spravato” S-ketamine, the nasal spray, is the only ketamine medication approved by the FDA for depression. Esketamine is prescribed to adults who prior to did not have successful results with alternative antidepressants. This is administered in a clinic or doctor’s office where healthcare supervision is provided for up to 2 hours following the dose. Due to the risks of heavy sedation and disorientation, guests are not permitted to leave the clinic until the two hours are up. Shots, IV infusion, and lozenges, not yet approved by the FDA, have been studied as an alternative to Spravato for mental health. IV infusion and shots are solely performed in a doctor’s office or clinic. Lozenges are sometimes prescribed by a doctor for at-home use if they see fit between doses.

What does Ketamine Feel Like?

Experiences with ketamine treatments vary depending on the user’s intake as well as their body mass index (BMI). Ketamine has been labeled a dissociative anesthetic and is known for its euphoric after effects, most often used in the club scene. With short-acting effects, you’re guaranteed to experience the side effects in under 30 minutes—this can be dangerous where users are more likely to overuse in order to have longer-lasting effects. The effects of ketamine can easily be described as an out-of-body experience (OBE), putting you in an imaginative state and completely motionless. This might sound scary for some, which it most definitely can be if you’re not being treated by medical professionals or following the recommended dose.

Real Experiences with Ketamine

Pediatric nurse, Christa Coulter-Scott, received an intangible ketamine treatment in Gainesville, GA. When asked how her treatment experience was, she said, “It was like a spiritual journey. I felt warm, safe, and confident. As the treatment went on, all the weight of stress was taken off of me in layers. I felt like I had the power of the universe at my fingertips.” Coulter-Scott, 51, felt as though depression had taken ownership of her and her life since she was a child. Over the years, battling with depression, chronic pain, and PTSD as an adult, she’s tested 10 different antidepressant medications—none of them worked, except for ketamine. 

TV writer, Zachary Rice, 28,  started seeing a therapist when he was only 10-years-old and at 16 was diagnosed with clinical depression. At 18 he started on antidepressants and since then has been introduced to 13 other prescriptions. In his early twenties, Rice was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and acute stress disorder (ASD). From a young age, Rice had struggled with suicidal ideation which even resulted in an attempt. As the pandemic came about in 2020, the suicidal thoughts returned. He knew he needed to do something. Rice gave his psychiatrist a call and they both knew medication won’t be as rapidly effective as needed. They provided two different options, either hospitalization or ketamine treatment—he settled on the ketamine treatments. 

His first session, at Ember Health in Brooklyn Heights, was a dose of about 0.5-1 milligram per kilogram of his weight through IV infusion. The treatment began with Rice putting in headphones with an eye mask in order to block out any potential distractions, all the while hooked up to a cardiac monitor and IV. They told him to think back on a happy memory, and he knew the exact moment—watching the sunset on the border of Yosemite Valley with some of his friends.

Then it was as if the lights dimmed in a movie theatre and reality went away,” he recalled. “I flew across the valley at five thousand miles an hour and smashed into Half Dome, then Half Dome exploded into the universe and I was floating in space.” A narrator coalesced, a kind of entity or guide, with a commanding yet comforting voice. (He sounded like Danny Glover, Rice said.) He asked Rice if he wanted to take a tour of his own brain. Rice proceeded to greet all the people who work in his brain, and then the tour moved on to the formative experiences in his life, including deeply traumatic ones that he considers the roots of his mental illness.

He saw a mosaic of every person who loves him and has been important to him. “You don’t have to scare them anymore,” the narrator said. “You can be alive and it’s O.K. and it’s good.” It was the first time in twenty years, Rice said, that he’d had anything like a positive internal monologue. The tour concluded with an “interdimensional safari” where he watched elephants twirl until the safari car folded back onto itself and his brain merged with the drivers. When Rice regained normal consciousness, he was laughing and crying.”

Following the session, Rice was given a cup of tea and a moment to write about his experience with ketamine. He felt like he was on top of the world, he headed home and completed years worth of household tasks. Within the next 10 days, Rice completed four sessions and has continued attending monthly ever since. Rice wraps up his interview to say, “It’s not hyperbolic to say that ketamine saved my life,” he said. “That hour session was more transformative for my mental health than anything I’ve done in my twenty-plus years of therapy and medication.”

Ketamine treatments might not work for everyone, especially if you aren’t utilizing them for medical purposes. If you’re looking for alternatives to antidepressants and are considering ketamine treatments, we advise that you do your research before proceeding.

Reach Out

Royal Life Centers at Chapter 5, it is our sole mission to supply you with the addiction treatment services best suited for you. Our admissions specialists will direct you to one of our outreach providers that can help you receive the treatment you’re looking for.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, please feel free to reach out to us at 877-RECOVERY. Our addiction specialists are available 24/7 to assist you through this time and find hope in recovery.

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