Can People in Addiction Recovery Use Ketamine to Treat Depression?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that can have hallucinogenic effects when abused. According to the DEA, this drug “distorts perceptions of sight and sound and makes the user feel disconnected and not in control.”[1]

While ketamine is a known drug of abuse, it also has some medicinal uses. Originally, ketamine was used in veterinary practices as an anesthetic drug for animals. However, experts have found some medicinal uses for humans in regards to ketamine.

In 2019, the FDA approved a new treatment for depression for the first time in a long time. This drug is a nasal spray that contains esketamine, a derivative of ketamine.[2]

However, the propensity for abuse this drug carries might make individuals weary of using this depression treatment if they have a history of drug addiction. Let’s take a look at how ketamine helps treat depression and if it’s okay for former addicts to take advantage of this new treatment.

How is Ketamine Used to Treat Depression?

Ketamine treatment is available in a nasal spray or through an IV treatment. Typically, for depression, IV treatments are used. Ketamine IV therapy uses a series of 90-minute-long infusions that take place over a few weeks.

While ketamine can cause sedation, a much lower dosage is used for the treatment of depression. Each session includes a two-hour observation period after treatment to monitor any side effects and to ensure that patients are responding well to the medication.

Ketamine treatment tends to work fairly quickly, making it one of the more promising treatments for depression. While other medications take weeks or even months to begin to work, ketamine can provide relief in as little as a few hours after the first treatment.

Research is still underway to understand the exact mechanisms of ketamine’s ability to treat depression. However, current theories suggest that this form of depression treatment works by:[3]

  • Causing physical growth in the prefrontal cortex
  • Increasing formation of new synapses in the brain
  • Reducing signals involved in inflammation
  • Restoring coordinated circuit activity
  • Facilitating communication in specific areas of the brain

What Are the Other Uses for Ketamine?

Surgical Anesthetic

Ketamine is most commonly used by veterinarians as an animal tranquilizer or by aestheticians to sedate adults and children for surgical procedures. This drug is a fast-acting anesthetic, meaning it quickly causes sedation. Additionally, it only lasts 30 to 60 minutes, allowing animals and people to wake up quickly from surgery.

The side effects of large anesthetic doses of ketamine include:

  • Hallucinations or psychosis after surgery
  • Changes in body image or sensory perception
  • Distress and disorientation

Because of these side effects, ketamine is less commonly used as an anesthetic for humans.

Party Drug

When used in large doses, ketamine causes a dissociative effect that makes users feel like they are having an out-of-body experience. Because of this, ketamine is abused frequently in the party and club scene.

People who use this substance may experience:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Enhanced sensory abilities
  • Hallucinations
  • Being unable to move their body
  • Being detached from their body and their surroundings (this is called a “K-Hole”)
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Seizures

Abusing ketamine in this way is very dangerous, as the dosage is extremely high and the substance is not being administered by a professional. Additionally, the ketamine an individual may buy on the street is likely to be adulterated, leaving people unsure of what they took.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Ketamine may be used in alcohol addiction treatment. In the same way that this substance can disrupt the formation of memories, it can also override the way a person views alcohol. This means it could weaken alcoholism triggers that individuals suffer from, making them less likely to return to drinking after getting sober.

Ketamine does this by blocking the brain receptor known as NMDA. This receptor is responsible for regulating mood and memory formation. So, if someone is given ketamine, it could erase the memories associated with alcoholism altogether.

Is it Okay to Take Ketamine in Recovery?

If ketamine treatment is prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist, yes, it is okay to take it as a person in recovery. It is important to note that ketamine treatment must be administered by a licensed professional so there is a much smaller risk of abuse and addiction than if it were used recreationally. Taking the drug recreationally will not treat the symptoms of depression.

Because ketamine can even help reduce an individual’s addiction to alcohol, it is okay to use this form of treatment. However, ketamine treatment is not something to take lightly. People undergoing this form of treatment should always follow the instructions given by their doctor and avoid abusing substances in their free time.

How to Safely Use Ketamine for Depression Treatment

Because ketamine is a known drug of abuse, it is important to practice safe use while undergoing ketamine treatments for depression–especially if the patient is in recovery. The first and most important rule to safely use ketamine for depression is to never take ketamine that isn’t being administered by a doctor. Taking illicit forms of ketamine could lead to adverse symptoms like psychosis and life-threatening overdoses.

People in recovery should also tell their sponsor, sober support, or loved ones about their ketamine treatment. This will provide them with a sense of accountability and support throughout the process.

Taking ketamine to treat depression can be an amazing experience, but people must take precautions if they have a history of addiction.

Finding Help for Depression and Substance Abuse

If you or a loved one suffer from depression, substance abuse, or a combination of the two, it’s time to seek help. Dealing with co-occurring disorders is never easy, especially when you haven’t received professional help to learn how to manage your symptoms.

Our team of world-class addiction specialists at Addiction Intervention can connect you with a treatment program that addresses your specific needs. Give us a call to get started today.

References:

  1. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/cbp-seizure-and-hsi-collaboration-lead-oklahoma-state-police-ketamine
  2. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-nasal-spray-medication-treatment-resistant-depression-available-only-certified
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6767816/