Depression and chronic pain can put people at risk for drug abuse, hospitalization, and suicide, but a new and unlikely drug might be able to help. Ketamine infusion, the substance known for its use as a party drug and veterinary sedative, has shown some promise in treating major depression and curbing suicidal thoughts.
Ketamine infusion therapy is a new method of treating pain and depression involving a short-acting psychoactive drug with hallucinogenic effects. However, the drug is also associated with some serious side effects, including a high risk of abuse.
Its potential for abuse is notorious, especially in party settings with ravers looking to achieve a quick dissociative high. It’s also a sedative and has led abusers into automobile accidents and other deadly situations.
What is Ketamine Infusion Therapy?
Ketamine is a medication that is used in anesthesia that provides pain relief and sedation. It was originally introduced in 1962 as an anesthetic and was a viable replacement for phencyclidine (PCP). It acts quickly, beginning to take effect within five minutes of administration. During ketamine infusion, the drug is introduced into the body through an IV. Ketamine has some psychological side effects when wearing off, including confusion and hallucinations.
Today, other anesthetics have taken its place except in special circumstances like patients who are very young, asthmatics, and emergency surgery in war zones. Otherwise, it is commonly used in surgery on horses and other veterinary needs.
Ketamine is a dissociative like PCP and DXM but it has a much shorter duration. Its fast-acting effects made it popular as a recreational drug for those who wanted a quick high. There are even some reports of it being sold as MDMA despite very different durations and effects.
Ketamine Infusion Treating Depression
Depression is more than just feeling upset because of some life turmoil. Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mild-to-severe mental illness that saps the energy and joy out of its victims. Depression is a persistent feeling of hopelessness, sadness, and loss of interest. The exact cause of depression is unknown and often debated in the psychiatric community. We know that there may be biological, psychological, and social factors involved, but we don’t know how or to what extent.
Doctors routinely prescribe antidepressants to help in the treatment of major depressive disorder, but they are not always effective. In fact, some are taking a closer look at their effectiveness overall. In a paper in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff pointed out the overall failure of traditional treatment saying, “Despite the enormous increase in antidepressant prescribing in the West over the last decade and a half, epidemiologic evidence suggests that the prevalence of depressive episodes is higher than ever.”
Ketamine infusion works faster than other depression treatment options, and it’s ideal for patients who are having intense thoughts of suicide. Major depressive episodes can be intense, even manifesting in physical pain alongside dark thoughts, loss of hope, and a lack of energy. Doctors began using ketamine infusion for depression before it was approved for that purpose. In fact, it’s not uncommon for physicians to use approved drugs for uncommon treatments before approval.
The FDA has since approved ketamine infusion for use in depression cases, and it has continued to gain popularity.
Ketamine Infusion Treating Pain
Ketamine infusion is also used in treating pain symptoms and postoperative pain management. After operations and in cancer patients, pain management is an important part of the treatment process. Opioids like morphine and oxycodone are commonly used to treat pain symptoms from major surgery to wisdom teeth removal. However, with the country in the middle of an opioid epidemic, finding alternatives to highly addictive pain medication is essential.
Ketamine has shown promise in effectively curbing the use of opioids like morphine for years. A 1996 study showed that ketamine was useful for boosting the potency of morphine which allows smaller doses to be effective.
Ketamine infusion is also used to treat a condition called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a neuropathic brain syndrome that is characterized by extreme pain that is out of proportion to the original injury. Pain and inflammation can start with an injury and spread through the entire body, with long-term effects.
Ketamine is a NMDA blocker and can be useful in managing the extreme pain caused by CRPS when other treatments have failed. One 2011 report pointed out that no serious ketamine-related complications were recorded as a result of these treatments.
Side Effects of Ketamine Infusion
Ketamine may be effective in treating both depression and pain symptoms but it also causes several side effects, even in clinical use. As a dissociative drug, ketamine can cause the feeling of an “out-of-body experience” and other hallucinations. Many patients and users have reported the feeling of looking down at their own bodies. Hallucinogenic effects can also include the distortion of colors and sounds.
Of course, there is also the sense of drowsiness and dizziness that is often associated with sedatives. Typically these psychological effects only last an hour during infusion, and the drug’s positive effects continue after dissociative effects have worn off.
Ketamine may also come with some physiological symptoms that can be dangerous outside of medical supervision. Symptoms include:
- Cardiovascular effects like blood pressure change heart rate change or abnormal heart rhythms.
- Intracranial hypertension
- Gastrointestinal effects like anorexia, nausea, vomiting
- Double vision or tunnel vision
- Airway obstruction
Ketamine also has some risk of neurotoxicity, or effects that can permanently damage the brain. This effect, called Olney’s lesions, can damage NMDA receptors because of prolonged use of antagonists like ketamine or PCP.
Is Ketamine Addictive?
Ketamine has been used as a sedative for decades and there is very little evidence to suggest that there is a high risk of addiction. However, research regarding the effects of prolonged ketamine infusion therapy after a long period of time is very limited.
Ketamine, though not typically associated with chemical addiction, does have a have a track record of abuse. And, because of its host of potential risks and side effects, it can be very dangerous to use outside the supervision of medical professionals. As a party drug, it can lead to overdose, dangerous side-effects, accidents, and, because of its sedative effects, sexual assault. According to the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, more research is needed to determine if the benefits of ketamine infusion outweigh the risks.
If you or a loved one is caught in a pattern of ketamine (or other dissociative) abuse, call the advisors at Drug Treatment Center Finder at 855-619-8070 to learn more about your next step toward recovery.