Wellness trend: ketamine

Ketamine has been found to be a potentially promising treatment for depression, migraines, generalized anxiety disorder, and more. 

When they called cannabis a “gateway drug,” they may not have meant as a wellness therapy but that’s what has happened. CBD is old news these days, and since the mainstreaming of cannabis in wellness, there has been an explosion of research into and in use of other formerly frowned upon substances. We’ve talked in the past about the mainstreaming of psychedelics, like psilocybin, the compound found in more than 200 species of mushrooms, and DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) the chemical substance known as the “spirit molecule,” used in ayahuasca, a South American entheogenic plant brew, as potential treatments and preventatives for depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and addiction, among other things. And, while these are still on the rise and in the spotlight, another player has recently entered the game: ketamine.

Ketamine gained infamy as a recreational drug

Ketamine was developed in 1962 and later approved by the American Food and Drug Administration as an anesthetic but has since gained infamy as a recreational drug. Studies into its potential as a treatment for depression by targeting the neurotransmitter glutamate started in 2000. A more potent version, esketamine, was approved as a treatment for depression in 2019, though clinics began administering intravenous treatments without approval about 10 years ago, according to the Los Angeles Times. Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist, Paul Nestadt, told the Times that about three-quarters of “very treatment-resistant patients” show significant improvement in depressive symptoms.

Ketamine and looking at smiling faces holds “promise” for helping people with treatment-resistant depression.

Meanwhile, a new study at the University of Pittsburgh found that ketamine paired with looking at images of smiling faces to build positive associations holds “promise” for helping people with treatment-resistant depression.

In cities including Toronto, New York, Miami, and Seattle you’ll find clinics offering ketamine IV drips. Manhattan’s Jeff Ditzell Psychiatry clinic, for example, provides an approximately 40-minute drip accompanied by theta brain waves and psychotherapy. The treatments are for people with debilitating depression who have already tried other treatment options.

And the Nushama Psychedelic Wellness Clinic, also in NYC, offers “sub-anesthetic doses of Ketamine, to occasion an ego-dissolving inner exploration.” The website explains that, “Unlike most medications which pharmacologically produce a healing response, ketamine provides a doorway into your consciousness for you to explore and experience.”

On top of treatment-resistant depression, ketamine has been found in studies to be a potentially promising treatment for migraines, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcohol and cocaine abuse.

Researchers are naturally cautious. Professor Celia Morgan, a psychopharmacologist at the University of Exeter, told the UK Telegraph: “Ketamine is an addictive substance and associated with harms to bladder and a risk of accidents, so we have to be cautious when using it in groups who are prone to addictive behaviours. But this is important work trying to drive the science of ketamine and memory forwards.”

As wellness, medicine, and mental health supports continue to overlap, we expect that we might see more normalization of psychedelic treatments across the board, including ketamine, in the coming years.

That being said, please don’t try this at home.


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