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Ketamine Therapy: An Emerging Treatment for Mental Health


A man receives ketamine therapy.

When you hear the word ‘ketamine’ what comes to mind? Substance abuse, horse tranquilizer, and k-holes might be your first thoughts. In recent years, research has highlighted promising results for ketamine therapy as an effective treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, chronic pain, addiction, persistent suicidal thoughts, and other mental health conditions. If your initial reaction is confusion or skepticism as to why and how a popular party drug is being used to treat mental illness, try to keep an open mind, and read on.


The Promising Power of Psychedelic Therapy 


Ketamine was first introduced in the 1950s as an anesthetic and eventually rose in popularity as a drug often used in nightclubs. In recent years, popular recreational drugs such as Psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms), MDMA (ecstasy), and ketamine have made their way into mental health care by treating depression and other mental illnesses.


Since ketamine therapy became FDA approved in 2019, ketamine clinics have been able to provide alternative options to those who do not benefit from traditional antidepressants, or who’s depressive symptoms are worsened by medication. When microdosed and medically supervised, these drugs can provide reprieve from symptoms of mental illness with few, if any, side effects for most.


Everyone’s mental health is unique and various treatments work well for some but might be ineffective for others. Treatments such as ketamine therapy have shown encouraging outcomes for people struggling with treatment-resistant mental health concerns such as long term suicidal ideation, major depression, addiction, trauma, and more.


In recent studies, researchers have found that low doses of oral ketamine therapy were able to reduce chronic suicidality in two thirds of patients. In another study, 70% of participants who received ketamine therapy noticed improvements to their treatment-resistant depression.

Photo credit: My Ketamine Home

How Does Ketamine Therapy Work?


So, how does ketamine work as a form of therapy and why is it sometimes more effective than other, more common mental health treatments? While there is still information to be learned about the therapeutic properties of ketamine, what scientists and medical professionals do know from a neurological perspective is that ketamine targets a release of glutamate in the brain.


When glutamate is released, it can promote what’s called, neuroplasticity, or the ability the brain has to learn new behaviors. Neuroplasticity has the ability to build new connections, interrupt negative and harmful thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviors common in people who suffer with various types of mental illness.


Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. During treatment a person might feel a mild to strong sense of disconnection from their body and surroundings. They might also notice changes to what they see, what they hear, how things feel, and some will have an introspective hallucinogenic experience. Crossing what’s called the psychedelic threshold can help aid in the success of the treatment, though Ketamine can still activate neuroplasticity, whether you have a psychedelic experience or not.


With the help of neuroplasticity, someone suffering with depression can potentially access the ability to disrupt thoughts that tell them they don’t deserve to be happy. A person with a trauma history can realize what happened to them was not their fault. Someone who struggles with addiction can reach for healthier coping strategies when cravings arise. When used in tandem with talk therapy, ketamine can help a patient move through what might have been a stuck point, or places in their healing journey they’ve been struggling to understand or accept.


An added benefit of ketamine therapy that talk therapy and medication often can’t provide is how fast acting ketamine can be. Instead of waiting weeks or months to feel positive changes to symptoms, many who use ketamine therapy experience emotional regulation and other antidepressant effects within just a few hours or days after treatment.


How is Ketamine Therapy Administered? 


Over the past few years, clinics that offer ketamine therapy have spiked in popularity, offering treatment for depression, PTSD, and other conditions. There are a few ways that you can receive ketamine therapy if you believe it could be helpful for your mental health.


Ketamine Infusions 


Ketamine infusions typically take place at a ketamine clinic, or other medical setting. IV ketamine is facilitated by a trained medical or psychiatric professional who undergoes intake with the patient, provides information for what they can expect, and checks on them periodically during the session to monitor heart rate and blood pressure, and make sure their dose is not too high or low.


Nasal Spray 


Ketamine therapy can also be administered as a nasal spray supervised by a medical professional. The duration of the ketamine therapy usually consists of three doses spaced five minutes apart, while the doctor monitors the patient.


At Home 


In some states, at home, medically supervised ketamine can be an option for those who’d like to experience the treatment in the comfort of their own space. Some companies provide sublingual ketamine treatments to appropriate, medically screened patients with an assigned doctor to ensure continuity of care throughout the program. A prescribed dose of ketamine simply goes under the tongue and the entirety of the treatment is be done right at home.


Is Ketamine Therapy Safe? 


While medically supervised ketamine therapy is safe for most, there are potentially side effects of ketamine to consider and be aware of. Some people experience short term side effects after ketamine therapy treatments that tend to dissipate within four hours after the treatment ends.


One of the most common side effects of ketamine treatment is nausea. Depending on the method ketamine therapy is being administered, medication used to curb nausea can be included in the IV infusion or taken orally before the treatment begins.


In addition to nausea, after ketamine therapy, you might feel a bit woozy for a few hours after. It’s often recommended by medical professionals who conduct ketamine therapy to ensure you have nothing planned for the rest of the day after treatment. You may feel dizzy and still experience mild dissociative sensations so you’ll want to avoid operating a vehicle or engaging in any potentially dangerous situations.


Ketamine therapy, when administered correctly and by a professional, is considered safe and many have experienced the benefits first hand. That said, like many other therapeutic modalities, it can potentially come with facing uncomfortable emotions, memories, and realizations, but then again, that’s all a natural part of the healing journey.


This article and any information within are not substitutes for medical advice. Modern Intimacy maintains each person discuss viable treatment options with a medical and mental health professional.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Kayla Tricaso is the Office Manager and Patient Intake Specialist at Modern Intimacy. When she is not working at Modern Intimacy, Kayla is in graduate school to become a therapist who specializes in trauma.



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