Ketamine — What Is It?

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Jul 05, 2022

Ketamine — What Is It?

Learn about ketamine, how it got started, and its usefulness for mental health.

In recent years, the use of ketamine has grown beyond the operating room and into the toolkits of therapists, psychologists, and other clinicians. Learn how this drug got its start and how it has found renewed success in the realm of psychology.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a general anesthetic that is now emerging as a potential treatment for depression, PTSD, and other mental disorders.

Where Did It Come From?

Ketamine was first developed in the 1960s as a replacement for PCP (phencyclidine). Previously, PCP had been used as a general anesthetic but was quickly falling out of favor with doctors and patients alike because of the extreme hallucinations it caused.

Ketamine’s use as a general anesthetic really took off during the Vietnam war because ketamine, unlike other general anesthetics, doesn’t slow breathing or heart rate. This meant that ketamine could be used on the battlefield and in other situations where another anesthetic wouldn’t have been feasible. 

Since that time, ketamine has been one of the most common anesthetics in operating rooms around the world.

What Is It Used For?

Although ketamine was originally developed as an alternative to the hallucinogenic PCP, ketamine does also cause hallucinations (although much more minor than those caused by PCP and other drugs). Because of its hallucinogenic effects, ketamine is most often used in veterinary medicine. However, it is still used as an anesthetic for minor procedures in human medicine, particularly in pediatric care.

According to WebMD, first responders have utilized ketamine to calm people who were trying to take their own lives. Some even found that these same patients reported a lack of suicidal thoughts even several months later.

As the anecdotal evidence mounted, doctors and researchers began to wonder if there was more to ketamine than just general anesthesia. 

Today, ketamine may be an option for people with major depressive disorder that hasn’t responded to other medications.

In 2019, the first FDA-approved version of antidepressant ketamine became available. This particular version is a nasal spray called Spravato (esketamine), and it can be prescribed by a doctor for individual use.

Throughout the country, researchers and psychiatry clinics have also been investigating the benefits and uses of off-label intravenous ketamine as a potential treatment for major depression. And while off-label may sound shady, it simply refers to the legal use of a medication or drug in a way other than what the FDA had originally approved. Many medications got their start this way. 

The fascinating thing about ketamine, however, is that the discovery of its usefulness for depression “came largely out of basic neuroscience research, instead of by chance,” like other off-label medications.

HempLucid offers quarterly ketamine treatments to our employees as part of our Corporate Mental Health Program.

Is Ketamine Safe?

Ketamine, like any drug or medication, can be dangerous if used incorrectly or in the wrong doses. Also, ketamine does have a reputation as a party drug under a variety of nicknames — special K, vitamin K, and cat valium, to name a few — which may make people cautious to try it.

However, when administered by a medical professional in a clinical setting, and with the appropriate techniques for integrating the experience, the effects of ketamine are safe and can be life-changing. 

Dr. Steven Levine, in an article for Psycom, also says, “Studies show that in the very low doses we use, in a medical setting, with lack of access at home and infrequent dosing, there is virtually no potential for addiction or abuse.”

Mental health clinics throughout the United States have begun to administer ketamine at a low, sub-anesthetic dose for the treatment of mental and physical disorders like anxiety, PTSD, depression, suicidality, and pain, and they are achieving amazing results. 

How Can You Prepare?

If you’re interested in ketamine treatments, make sure that you prepare for the experience as well as you can.

Start by talking to your doctor, who can help you decide if ketamine is the right option for you. Not everybody with depression or PTSD is a good candidate for ketamine, and your doctor can provide valuable insight.

You should also do plenty of research and gather as much information as you can. This post and the articles linked here are a great place to start.

Because ketamine can cause nausea, you might want to go without food or drinks in the hours leading up to the procedure. A clinic will have more specific guidelines on this, but you might expect to abstain from food for eight hours and drinks for four hours.

Journaling can help you organize your thoughts. What do you want to get out of the experience? What are you worried about? What are your treatment goals? Be as simple or as elaborate as you want. You can also look back at this journal entry later to gauge how the treatment is going.

You should arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure and stay with you for at least several hours or the rest of the day. Ketamine can bring up intense emotions and you may not feel comfortable being home alone. You may also feel groggy or disoriented, so having a driver is the safest bet.

Talk with your spouse, family, or roommates about your plan so that they can support you at home after the experience.

What Is the Experience Like?

The IV ketamine treatment generally lasts about two hours. Some clinical side effects include elevated blood pressure and heart rate. 

Many people report a high or trippy experience while receiving ketamine, and some experience a little nausea. Others describe a state of dissociation or an out-of-body experience. Some people experience blurred vision and slurred speech. These effects wear off quickly after the injection is over.

During the injection, you will be able to see and hear what’s going on around you, but you may feel disconnected from your body, feel like you’re floating, or have minor hallucinations.

After the treatment, you might still feel disoriented. You shouldn’t drive, act as a caretaker, or sign any important paperwork until you feel back to normal, which may take a day or so.

What Do You Do Next?

Ketamine isn’t a magic cure-all. (Unfortunately, those don’t exist yet.) But it can give you a little room to breathe so that you can get your feet under you, as the saying goes. Integration is the most important part of ketamine treatment — two hours in a clinic won’t do you much good if you don’t put in the work to continue improving.

You should integrate your ketamine treatments with talk therapy, either at the same clinic where you received treatment or elsewhere. A therapist or psychologist can help you evaluate how the ketamine has worked and can help you develop good habits that you can use to continue your healing. Good habits might include things like:

  • Going to therapy
  • Journaling
  • Eating healthier
  • Changing supplements

HempLucid employees who have received ketamine treatment say that these treatments have generally contributed to increased productivity and improved feelings of well-being. 

At HempLucid, we’re proud of our partnership with Cedar Psychiatry here in Utah and we’re excited to see where treatments like ketamine can take the future of mental health.

Learn more about HempLucid and our corporate mental health program here.

Disclaimer: HempLucid supports the clinical use of ketamine when administered by qualified medical professionals. This article is in no way an endorsement for personal, casual use. The information in this article is presented purely for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any condition. As always, consult your doctor before introducing a new drug or supplement.

Research Sources:

What is Ketamine? How it Works and Helps Severe Depression; Sonya Collins; WebMD; accessed May 2022

How Ketamine Drug Helps with Depression; Jennifer Chen; Yale Medicine; accessed May 2022

Ketamine for Depression; Rosemary Black; Psycom 

Ketamine Infusion; University of Utah Health; accessed May 2022

Numinus Pilots Mental Health Program for Corporate Clients in Utah; PR Newswire; accessed June 2022

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