In recent years, the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy has been gaining traction all around the world. As more research continues to be conducted and published indicating the therapeutic potential of these substances, the field of psychiatry is changing. 

One psychoactive substance currently in use by trained therapists in the United States is ketamine.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a medication that has been used for decades in hospital settings as an anesthetic for surgeries. More recently, however, it has been studied for its therapeutic potential in treating a variety of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Is Ketamine Legal in the United States?

Yes, ketamine is legal in the United States, but it is a regulated medication. It is classified as a Schedule III Controlled Substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which means that it has a recognized medical use but also carries a potential for abuse.

Ketamine was approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1970.

However, it wasn’t until the 2000’s that the therapeutic benefits of ketamine started to pique  the interest of researchers.

During this time up to now, ketamine therapy centers have opened in states all around the country. Licensed clinicians are able to prescribe ketamine as off-label medication. Off-label medications are common in medicine.

The FDA defines off-label medications as any of the following,

  • Used for a disease or medical condition that it is not approved to treat, such as when a chemotherapy is approved to treat one type of cancer, but healthcare providers use it to treat a different type of cancer.
  • Given in a different way, such as when a drug is approved as a capsule, but it is given instead in an oral solution.
  • Given in a different dose, such as when a drug is approved at a dose of one tablet every day, but a patient is told by their healthcare provider to take two tablets every day.

How is Ketamine Used for Therapy?

Ketamine therapy is typically administered in a clinical setting by a trained psychiatrist or another medical professional. The patient will receive an intravenous (IV) infusion of ketamine while being monitored closely by trained medical professionals. The entire session typically lasts around 40 minutes to an hour.

According to Harvard Medical School,

“If a person responds to ketamine, it can rapidly reduce suicidality (life-threatening thoughts and acts) and relieve other serious symptoms of depression. Ketamine also can be effective for treating depression combined with anxiety.”

Are There Any Risks Involved with Using Ketamine Therapy?

As with any medication, there are always potential risks involved with using ketamine therapy. Some of the most common side effects include dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

However, these side effects are typically mild and temporary. More serious side effects are rare but can include dissociation (feeling disconnected from oneself), an increase in blood pressure, and heart rate. 

Ketamine therapy is a relatively new treatment option that shows promising results for those struggling with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. While there are some risks involved with using ketamine therapy, the potential benefits may outweigh those risks for many people. Only time will tell what role ketamine therapy will play in the future of psychiatry but it certainly seems to be opening up new possibilities for how we treat mental illness.