7 Lesser-Known Ketamine Benefits

7 lesser known benefits of ketamine therapy

Ketamine has come a long way since its origins as a safer alternative used in anesthesia. Once known as the club drug “Special K,” this versatile compound has undergone a remarkable transformation, emerging as a promising treatment for a wide range of conditions, from severe depression to chronic pain. In this exploration, we’ll uncover the 5 six lesser-known benefits of this molecule, including how it it can help “reboot” your brain and transform your health.

Ketamine’s History: From Battlefield Anesthetic to Psychiatric Medication

Synthesized in 1956 by chemists at Parke-Davis, ketamine was initially tested on animals, where it was found to cause drunkenness in rodents, delirium in dogs, and cataplectic states in pigeons. Despite these concerning side effects, ketamine was deemed a safe and reliable anesthetic in humans, though it also caused intense, prolonged delirium post-anesthesia.

In the 1970s and 1980s, ketamine made its way onto the battlefield as a battlefield anesthetic during the Vietnam War. Its dissociative and hallucinogenic effects then led to its popularity as a recreational drug in the 1990s, known as “special K”

However, the tide began to turn in the 2000s, as researchers started exploring the potential anti-depressant properties of ketamine. They found that low doses administered intravenously had profound anti-depressant effects, leading to a shift in perception from a party drug to a psychiatric medication.

In 2019, the FDA approved esketamine, a derivative of ketamine, under the brand name Spravato, for the treatment of adults with treatment-resistant depression. This marked a significant milestone, as ketamine therapy began to garner widespread attention for its potential in treating various mental health conditions, including anxiety and PTSD, as well as physical ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and chronic pain.

The 7 Lesser Known Benefits of Ketamine

You probably have heard about how beneficial ketamine is for depression and anxiety, but did you know that it can support the body in other ways, too? Here are 7 other ways ketamine supports the body…

1. Ketamine Can Act as an Anti-Inflammatory

Ketamine is an anti-inflammatory agent, reducing chronic pain and swelling by inhibiting the release of specific immune cells called neutrophils. It also reduces pro-inflammatory signalin proteins in the blood known as cytokines.

Scientists are investigating the medical applications of intravenously administered ketamine to determine its potential in treating conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, as well as other inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and neuropathic pain.

2. Ketamine Supports Pain Relief

Ketamine, originally used as an anesthetic, is recognized for its analgesic properties in managing chronic pain. It operates as an NMDA receptor antagonist, which is crucial in disrupting pain signals transmitted to the brain. This mechanism is particularly beneficial for neuropathic pain where dysfunctional pain pathways in the nervous system amplify pain perception. By reducing central sensitization, ketamine prevents the nervous system from overreacting to minor irritations, thereby controlling pain more effectively.

Additionally, ketamine’s role in pain management is enhanced by its ability to work synergistically with other pain medications, allowing for effective pain relief without the need for higher doses of each drug, thus minimizing potential side effects. This combination of effects makes ketamine a valuable component of pain management strategies, particularly for conditions like chronic neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

3. Ketamine Can Boost the Immune System (via Stress and Cortisol Reduction)

Ketamine therapy can reduce your stress response and improve immune function. When we’re stressed or anxious, our bodies release excess cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and makes us more vulnerable to disease. A ketamine infusion not only combats anxiety and depression, but also reduces the body’s stress response by lowering cortisol production.

Studies have shown that people who receive ketamine infusions experience an increase in natural killer T cells, which are responsible for killing off damaged or cancerous cells that could potentially grow into tumors. Additionally, ketamine has been found to be safe and effective at helping people with autoimmune conditions and increasing a healthy person’s immune response by reducing neutrophils and macrophages, which are responsible for scooping up unhealthy cell debris, tumor cells, and toxins.

4. Ketamine Can Help Regenerate the Brain

Ketamine has some truly unique effects on our brains and spinal cords. It can promote neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt over time in response to our environment, thoughts, and experiences. Ketamine increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that appears to play a role in the growth of new blood vessels and neurons.

Studies have shown that ketamine can help repair brain function by promoting the regrowth of nerves in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. It also reduces inflammation of the brain and spinal cords, which may be beneficial in treating conditions like Alzheimer’s.

By helping the brain rewire itself and create new connections between neurons, ketamine can improve cognitive function, attention, learning, memory, and motivation. The combination of its effects on glutamate, a key neurotransmitter, and the increase in BDNF can act as a “Miracle Grow” for the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in complex reasoning, judgment, social behavior, and how we interpret events.

5. Ketamine Shows Potential in Relieving COVID-19 and Long COVID

Researchers are now investigating the role of ketamine in treating severe COVID-19 infections and post-COVID symptoms known as “Long COVID.” Because ketamine is an effective anti-inflammatory and can support immune function, it may help patients with severe COVID-19 fight off the virus-related inflammation that accompanies the sickness.

Long COVID is associated with a variety of physical and mental symptoms, including headaches, intense fatigue, memory and thinking difficulties, muscular disability, joint discomfort, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Treating the episodes of depression, brain fog, and suicidal thoughts that accompany Long COVID, while also providing physical relief from the pain and extreme fatigue, is where the potential of ketamine therapy shines. Here’s one case study as an example.

6. Ketamine Can Offer Addiction Recovery Support

Ketamine treatment can be helpful for those recovering from addiction, as it can alleviate treatment-resistant depression and anxiety symptoms that often accompany withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. Researchers have also found that a ketamine infusion can reduce the cue-induced craving for substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids.

The opioid epidemic has reached devastating levels, with nearly 645,000 people dying from overdoses involving opioids in the United States between 1999 and 2021, according to the CDC. Ketamine’s ability to affect specific brain pathways that can influence cravings makes it a promising tool in the fight against addiction and substance use disorders.

7. Ketamine May Support Cognitive Enhancement

By interacting with the neurotransmitter glutamate, which directly affects attention, learning, memory, and motivation, ketamine can enable neuroplasticity to enhance cognitive abilities.

Ketamine acts on neuroplasticity by increasing BDNF in the brain; the combination of ketamine’s effects on glutamate and the increase in BDNF can lead to dramatic improvements in cognitive performance, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in complex reasoning, judgment, social behavior, and how we interpret events.

Safety, Accessibility, and Considerations

Ketamine is typically administered through intravenous (IV) infusion or intramuscular (IM) injection, which provides the highest bioavailability, as well as the least addictive potential when compared to other routes like intranasal or sublingual.

While ketamine shows remarkable potential in treating various conditions, it’s crucial to understand that its effectiveness is significantly enhanced when combined with appropriate therapy or coaching. Ketamine treatment alone, without proper guidance and support, is not recommended. The transformative effects of ketamine are best harnessed within a comprehensive treatment plan that includes professional psychological support.

This integrated approach allows patients to process their experiences, develop coping strategies, and make lasting positive changes in their lives. By combining ketamine’s neurobiological benefits with the insights and tools provided by therapy or coaching, individuals can maximize the potential for long-term healing and personal growth.

Curious about how ketamine could support your mental wellbeing? Contact us today.
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