As a drug that has been around for over 50 years1, many people have heard of Ketamine, a commonly used anesthetic drug that can be used for people and animals. This medication was originally produced to help numb or sedate patients who need painful procedures like surgery.
Unfortunately, Ketamine is commonly abused as a recreational drug as well. Most illegal Ketamine is diverted from veterinarians’ offices. The illegal use of Ketamine has given it a bad rap over the years. However, this medication may be incredibly beneficial for many people when used properly.
Recently, it has been gaining recognition for treating several other conditions. Recent studies have found that Ketamine may effectively treat psychological issues like anxiety and depression, as this drug has a unique effect on the brain compared with other antidepressants. Let’s take a closer look at how this drug is used medically.
What type of drug is Ketamine?
Ketamine is considered a dissociative anesthetic . Ketamine was originally created to find a safer anesthetic option than phencyclidine or PCP . When taken, Ketamine places patients into a dream-like state in which they are disconnected from the world around them. It can be given at higher doses for full-on sedation or lower doses to help patients to disassociate when going through painful procedures to make them more bearable – such as having a dislocated bone put back into place.
Ketamine was approved for use by the FDA in 1970 and first given to American soldiers during the Vietnam War. It was used as a field anesthetic for soldiers who were badly wounded and needed surgery.
One common question that is asked about Ketamine is whether or not it is considered a psychedelic drug. Ketamine has been found to produce psychedelic effects when given at a subanesthetic dose (less than what is needed to make someone unconscious). However, Ketamine is categorized as an anesthetic drug, not psychedelic or opioid.
Depending on the dosage of Ketamine, the effects vary. When given at an anesthetic dosage, Ketamine can sedate patients or help to prolong sedation. When given at a lower dosage, Ketamine can have an effect of dissociation in which the patient is unconcerned with what’s happening around them.
Some studies have found that Ketamine can relieve symptoms of depression within hours and possibly even keep it at bay for weeks or longer.2 This is because of Ketamine’s effect on the NMDA receptor. Ketamine blocks this receptor and increases the amount of glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that encourages cells to take action. This can also help to stimulate new neural connections, a process known as neuroplasticity . Enhancing neuroplasticity may help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Types of Ketamine
There are three different types of Ketamine: R, S, and RS. The types of Ketamine have different spatial arrangements, and they bind to the brain and body differently.
RS-Ketamine may be the most widely used, as it was the original form of Ketamine approved by the FDA in 1970. RS-Ketamine is sold under the brand name Ketalar and is available in various forms, including oral, sublingual, nasal, rectal, subcutaneous, intravenous, and intramuscular. This type of Ketamine is widely used in healthcare settings as an anesthetic.
S-Ketamine is slightly different from RS because it provides a more potent psychoactive effect. This type of Ketamine is sold under the brand name Spravato and was approved by the FDA in 2019 for treatment-resistant depression.
Spravato is used as a nasal spray and is typically used in combination with other antidepressant medications to help patients with severe depression who haven’t responded well to other treatment methods. Spravato was FDA approved in 2020 for treating major depressive disorder with suicidal ideation .
S-Ketamine is highly restricted and can only be given by a healthcare provider in a medical setting. This form of Ketamine works faster and is expelled from the body more quickly than the other types.
The FDA has not yet approved R Ketamine. R-Ketamine is also known as arKetamine . Preclinical trials are in the process of approving this drug for use in severe depression.
ArKetamine may be an option for individuals who struggle with depression because it has a weaker effect on the NMDA and sigma receptors. This means that it could produce therapeutic effects with fewer psychoactive effects, which makes it ideal for someone who struggles with depression but isn’t interested in the psychoactive effects of the more potent types of Ketamine.
What is Ketamine used for medically?
Ketamine is commonly used as a sedative drug to induce general anesthesia. It is also used for several medical conditions, including anxiety, pain, depression, bipolar disorder, and epilepsy.
Ketamine therapy for depression
In recent years, Ketamine has been gaining recognition as a potential treatment for severe depression , offering a new, fast-working option for individuals with treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine works quickly when compared with other antidepressant medications. Ketamine taken by mouth typically takes about 30 minutes to work.
When administered through an IV, the effects of Ketamine can be felt within a minute. Dosage amounts of Ketamine IVs vary. But a standard subanesthetic dose is 0.3 to 0.5 mg/kg .
Ketamine IV therapy for depression usually follows a weekly schedule. You may get a series of six injections every other day over a 12 to 14-day period. This varies depending on where you go for therapy. You can usually tell by your third Ketamine infusion if it will help with your depression.
Ketamine therapy for pain
Ketamine can also be used to treat patients who suffer from chronic pain. One study found that Ketamine proved to be an effective method for treating chronic pain when administered at a lower dosage. However, this study also noted potential long-term side effects of using Ketamine for chronic pain relief, including schizoid-like behavior, dizziness, memory loss, and liver injury.4
Ketamine for PTSD
Ketamine therapy may be an effective treatment for patients who suffer from PTSD. One study found that individuals treated with repeated Ketamine infusions showed improved PTSD symptoms compared to those who did not receive Ketamine.5 Because this is one of the first studies of its kind, further research is needed to confirm the effects of Ketamine on PTSD.
Ketamine for bipolar disorder
Another psychiatric illness that may be treatable with Ketamine is bipolar disorder. Although further research is warranted regarding treating bipolar disorder with Ketamine, this study reviewed the potential benefits given Ketamine’s strong anti-depressive and anti-suicidal effects.6 A newer treatment for bipolar disorder is needed, given that bipolar disorder is associated with high rates of suicide and treatment resistance.
Ketamine for sedation
Ketamine is commonly used as a sedative drug in healthcare settings. Ketamine helps to put patients who are having painful procedures like surgery. The Ketamine dosage given for sedation is much higher than that given for other types of Ketamine treatment. The average amount of Ketamine needed for sedation is 2 mg/kg of body weight to produce 5 to 10 minutes of anesthesia.
Is Ketamine used to treat depression?
Depression is far more than just a sad or low mood; it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Because of how Ketamine affects the brain, it is likely a promising treatment for depression.
One form of Ketamine that is sometimes used for depression is a nasal spray. The nasal sprays are a common way Ketamine is abused and sold illegally. A healthcare provider should only administer Ketamine in a controlled setting.
Ketamine causes an increase in the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is why it affects patients with depression.7 Depression can cause the brain to shrink and lose synapses. Ketamine helps to rebuild these synapses to help the depressed brain recover and promote neuroplasticity.
Ketamine must be used in a controlled setting with a healthcare professional nearby. Because a patient may start to hallucinate or experience other neurological side effects from a Ketamine infusion, it needs to be administered in a controlled setting.
Is Ketamine used to treat anxiety and panic attacks?
People with anxiety disorders experience intense worry or fear. Feelings of anxiety can interfere with day-to-day life. Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder , social anxiety disorder , phobias , and separation anxiety. Typically treatment for anxiety involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Medications that are typically used to treat anxiety include antidepressants and antianxiety medications.
Ketamine has been studied as a potential treatment for anxiety.8 However, studies regarding Ketamine as an anxiety treatment are ongoing and have been minimally studied. At present, Ketamine has not been studied as a treatment for panic attacks specifically, although panic attacks are a part of some anxiety disorders. So if Ketamine proves to be an effective treatment for anxiety, it may also help with panic attacks.
Does Ketamine help with seizures?
There are many different reasons a person may develop a seizure disorder. It could be something you are born with or develop later. Sometimes seizures are a complication associated with certain psychological issues like borderline personality disorder (BPD) or schizophrenia . Ketamine is not typically recommended for patients with schizophrenia since it can cause increased paranoia.
One study found that Ketamine was an effective treatment for prolonged status epilepticus when the patient became resistant to the standard treatment (phenobarbital).9 According to this study, Ketamine is more useful in the later stages of prolonged status epilepticus than as an initial treatment.
Does Ketamine help with PTSD?
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can happen to anyone who experiences a traumatic event and suffers from lasting challenges. Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts and continuously reliving the traumatic event. PTSD can also cause anxiety, depression, and night terrors. PTSD is common in veterans, but it can happen to anyone who experiences a traumatic situation.
According to one study , Ketamine may be an effective treatment for PTSD. Because this is a new topic of research, further studies are still needed to determine if Ketamine is an effective treatment for PTSD or not.
Ketamine IV therapy and postpartum depression
Postpartum depression happens in 10 to 20% of new moms. This type of depression is specific to the postpartum period, meaning the weeks immediately following childbirth. Most women will experience a short period of “baby blues” in which they feel emotionally sensitive and down. However, if this period extends beyond the first few weeks following childbirth, you may be suffering from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression can range in severity from mild to severe. Postpartum depression can affect the entire family system, given the mother’s vital role in caring for a new baby. Treating and managing postpartum depression is important, so symptoms don’t get out of hand.
Postpartum depression may be treated with counseling, medication, or a combination. Sometimes, SSRIs are prescribed to women who are suffering from postpartum depression. Preventing and treating postpartum depression is another use of Ketamine currently being studied.
One study found that using Ketamine during anesthesia for women undergoing scheduled cesarean sections may help to prevent postpartum depression from developing.10 Ketamine IV therapy as a treatment for postpartum depression that has already developed has not been closely studied but may offer promising results as evidence evolves over the years.
How does Ketamine work as anesthesia?
Ketamine was used as an animal anesthetic before it was used on humans. The first chemists to study and produce Ketamine worked for Parke-Davis and Company and did so in the 1950s. Ketamine was first patented for animal use as a veterinary anesthetic in Belgium in 1963.
Ketamine was used to sedate animals so surgical procedures could be performed without pain. Ketamine was officially approved for use in humans in 1970 and was first administered to soldiers in the Vietnam war as a field anesthetic. Ketamine is still used as an anesthetic to this day. It can help to put patients who are going to have surgery or other painful procedures. Sometimes, Ketamine is used in combination with other anesthetic medications to help prolong anesthesia.
Doctors may also give Ketamine in lower doses to patients with quick, painful procedures, such as having a dislocated bone put back into place. This type of Ketamine use places a patient in a detached state, in which they are unaware of the pain, but they are still awake. Because Ketamine kicks in quickly and wears off fast, it is a valuable medication for these types of medical procedures.
Recreational use of Ketamine
Ketamine is also a commonly abused street drug. Ketamine is sometimes sold on the streets under the name “Special K .” The abuse of Ketamine began shortly after it became available for use in the U.S. in the 1970s. Ketamine was labeled as a controlled substance in 1999, which caused a decline in its illicit use. Then, in the early 2000s, when research began to pop up regarding the benefits of Ketamine for patients with depression, doctors began prescribing it more frequently, causing recreational use to increase once again.
Ketamine can be detected in the urine, hair, saliva, and blood. Ketamine can be detected in the urine for up to 14 days after it is used.
Ketamine treatment options and when to use them
There are many different forms of Ketamine, including Ketamine infusions and nasal sprays. A referral or prescription from your doctor is required for you to undergo Ketamine treatment.
Ketamine treatment for depression is considered an “off-label” drug use. For this reason, Ketamine infusions for depression are not covered by insurance. Anesthetic use of Ketamine is usually covered by insurance. For example, if you have a procedure performed at a hospital and they use Ketamine to put you under, this should be covered by your insurance.
Ketamine infusions are given for a variety of reasons. Many people use Ketamine infusions to help with psychological challenges like depression and anxiety. A trained professional performs Ketamine infusions in a controlled setting.
Because Ketamine can cause side effects like hallucinations and other psychological disturbances, it is important for healthcare professionals to closely monitor patients while they are undergoing Ketamine IV therapy.
Nasal sprays are another method for administering Ketamine. This form of Ketamine is FDA-approved ; however, it is only available through a very restrictive system. Nasal spray Ketamine for depression is prescribed to patients with treatment-resistant depression, so two different forms of antidepressant treatment must have been attempted without success.
- Double vision
- Loss of appetite
- Flushing or redness of the skin
- Feeling strange or “out of it”
- Feeling disconnected from your body
Not everyone will experience side effects from a Ketamine IV, and some may experience unique symptoms that are not listed above. It is important to only use Ketamine as prescribed by your doctor.
Is Ketamine addictive?
Whether or not Ketamine is addictive is a controversial subject–some believe it is addicting, while others believe it is not any more addicting than alcohol or cigarettes. Realistically, you can get addicted to anything, and Ketamine is no exception. Repeated Ketamine use and abuse are dangerous and may lead to long-term side effects .
Using Ketamine medically and following your doctor’s direction is safe and makes it less likely for you to get addicted to it. Repeated abuse of Ketamine can lead to tolerance, requiring users to take a higher dosage to feel the effects. Always follow the schedule recommended by your doctor when using Ketamine therapeutically.
Can you overdose on Ketamine?
Like all drugs, Ketamine overdose is possible. Combining Ketamine with other substances like drugs and alcohol is especially dangerous, as these drugs can slow breathing dangerously. If you or someone you know has mixed ketamine and alcohol , it’s important to monitor for symptoms requiring medical attention .
Is Ketamine the right choice for you?
If you think that Ketamine may be helpful for you, talk with your doctor about trying Ketamine IV therapy. Ketamine has shown positive effects for many patients, and Ketamine infusions can even be given from the comfort of your home. If you want to know more about whether treatment is right to you, schedule a free consultation today by clicking the button below.