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Ketamine and Mental Health

Asian woman sitting sad by her bed

In the past few years, the sedative ketamine has received considerable hype as some kind of mind-opening wonder drug. While it’s true that recent studies have shown the substance to be potentially beneficial for a range of mental health conditions, the typical doses a user of illicit ketamine might be exposed to are far more likely to be problematic than therapeutic.

Here, we’ll look into the benefits and drawbacks of ketamine in relation to mental health. If you think that you or someone you know has problems with ketamine use, call Boston Drug Treatment Centers to learn more about your treatment options.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a powerful sedative that was developed in the early 1960s as a safer alternative to phencyclidine, the substance better known as “PCP” or “Angel Dust”. PCP itself was developed as a less habit-forming anesthetic compared to opioid drugs. Later on, it became clear that PCP was also extremely addictive, leading to the development of ketamine.

Ketamine initially saw widespread use in the mid-1960s, in European hospitals and later, in US military hospitals during the Vietnam War. It was from the latter widespread use that its potential as a drug for treating trauma and depression first became widely discussed. It was also during this time that ketamine’s psychoactive effects were experienced by a wider number of people.

Subsequently, therapeutic ketamine dosages were lowered and its use in medical settings was mostly avoided. Both ketamine and PCP were and still are occasionally used as anesthetics, though this type of use is now far more common in veterinary medicine than it in general medical practice.

Today, ketamine has niche use in psychiatry and as a painkiller. Most contemporary ketamine use is illicit, thanks chiefly to its psychoactive effects at relatively low doses. It is now a DEA Schedule III non-narcotic controlled substance.

How is Ketamine Used?

Ketamine is available in a liquid solution or a powder. In a hospital setting, it is often given intravenously or in an ingestible form. Current use for topical pain relief has it being administered intramuscularly, as well. Users of illicit ketamine may snort or smoke ketamine powder, as well.

The substance has seen some niche use in psychiatry for controlling trauma and depression symptoms. Doses for this type of use are highly controlled and much lower than would be used when using the drug as an anesthetic.

A lot of illicit ketamine comes from sources intended for veterinary use, particularly for horses and other large livestock animals. Using ketamine intended for this purpose can seriously increase the risk of toxicity and other negative effects from the drug.

Effects of Ketamine Use

Ketamine has a wide range of short and long-term physical and psychiatric effects.

Short-term use of typical therapeutic doses can lead to the following:

  • Elevated body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sedation
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Leveled mood
  • Loss of coordination
  • Localized numbness, when intramuscularly injected
  • Slurred speech
  • Euphoria
  • Detachment
  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Dizziness

Long-term ketamine use or the use of large doses is associated with the following effects:

  • Renal diseases
  • Blood in urine
  • Painful urination
  • Bedwetting/incontinence
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Panic attacks
  • Blackouts
  • Depersonalization
  • Ketamine use disorder

Potential Benefits of Ketamine in Psychiatry

While ketamine itself may be potentially habit-forming, recent research and reviews of past literature seem to indicate that controlled doses can benefit people with substance use disorder, particularly alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Florida State University study found that low doses of ketamine can improve the mood of people withdrawing from alcohol, helping them achieve recovery. Other related studies have also shown that using lower than currently-recommended therapeutic doses may have benefits for controlling symptoms related to depression and post-traumatic stress, both conditions that disproportionately occur among people with substance use disorders.

Additionally, ketamine may see more widespread use in its intended role as a potent painkiller, albeit in much lower doses than originally used. A meta-analysis of studies related to ketamine’s use as a sedative or anesthetic strongly suggests that the drug may have a vastly reduced potential for addiction when used in doses lower than previously thought necessary. This may give ketamine a future role in preventing opioid use disorders, by allowing a much-reduced use of more habit-forming opioid pain killers.

Get Help for Ketamine Today

While these studies are promising, using ketamine in ways that are not medically recommended is likely to result in unintended toxicity and overdoses. If you’re considering using ketamine to treat a mental health condition, make sure to bring it up with your physician first. Chances are they may be able to recommend a less hazardous treatment.

If you are starting to crave ketamine or have problems ceasing misuse, please contact our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers at (857) 577-8193 to find evidence-based rehab programs in the Greater Boston area.