Ketamine-assisted therapy combines the use of ketamine, an anesthetic, with facilitated integration with a coach or therapist to help patients overcome the debilitating symptoms of many mental health conditions. By triggering neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to create new neural connections, ketamine encourages the brain to rewire itself, potentially leading to lasting improvement of a patient’s symptoms.
However, using ketamine for this purpose has not been without debate. Despite the tremendous momentum behind ketamine treatment, myths can still be harmful. False information can impact potential benefits, such as dissuading eligible patients in need or hindering research and development. In this blog post, we will debunk seven common myths surrounding ketamine. Backed by scientific studies, we will provide the facts surrounding ketamine treatment and the proof that patients are finding relief.
Ketamine Myth #1: Ketamine-assisted therapy is not supported by scientific evidence.
Debunked: Numerous scientific studies have examined the efficacy and safety of ketamine-assisted therapy for mood disorders.
For years, the misconception circulated that ketamine-assisted therapy lacked scientific evidence. This myth likely stems from the fact that ketamine was intended initially as an anesthetic rather than a psychiatric treatment.
The truth is that ketamine has been studied extensively. One source estimates there have been over 300 published studies on ketamine and its potential impact on treating trauma, PTSD, treatment-resistant mood disorders, addiction, and many other mental health conditions. In addition, this study suggests that research into ketamine-assisted therapy has rapidly increased in recent years. Staying knowledgeable and informed about the latest findings is vital for anyone interested in this innovative medicine.
Ketamine Myth #2: Ketamine is a recreational drug, not a legitimate therapy.
Debunked: While ketamine has a reputation for recreational misuse, it also has a reputation for profound therapeutic impact.
Assuming ketamine is not a legitimate therapy may be an understandable misconception, given its reputation as a recreational drug. In addition, a lack of public awareness surrounding ketamine-assisted therapy may contribute to confusion.
The reality is hundreds of studies have shown ketamine’s efficacy in treating trauma, PTSD, treatment-resistant mood disorders, and many other mental health conditions, including alcohol and substance use disorders. For instance, a study on the efficacy of IV ketamine published by the National Library of Medicine showed a significant reduction in symptoms among individuals who received ketamine-assisted therapy. Like most medication treatments, when prescribed and administered in a medical facility by experienced medical providers, ketamine is one of the safest treatments for mood disorders.
Ketamine Myth #3: Ketamine-assisted therapy is a quick fix; long-term effects are minimal.
Debunked: Ketamine-assisted therapy should not be seen as a standalone solution but rather as an adjunct to a comprehensive treatment plan.
When ketamine is used with proper dosing, attention to set and setting, proper preparation, and integration of the therapeutic experience, positive results are more likely and longer lasting. In a recent study on how ketamine can help treatment-resistant patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), researchers found that when they gave a low dose of ketamine under the skin (subcutaneous) at 0.5 mg/kg (which is a dose that’s commonly used in other studies), there wasn’t much of a change in the patients. However, when they increased the dose to 0.9 mg/kg, they saw significant improvements in their mood.
Ketamine Myth #4: Ketamine is a Horse Tranquilizer
Debunked: While it’s true that veterinarians have used ketamine as a tranquilizer in horses and other animals, it’s also been extensively used in humans. Today, neuroscientists and psychedelic scientists agree that ketamine is a highly effective and safe tool in treating many mental health conditions.
The myth of ketamine being solely a horse tranquilizer likely stems from its use in veterinary practices coupled with its mainstream coverage tied to public sporting events. However, it’s important to note that ketamine’s application in humans is not the same as ketamine for horses. In humans, ketamine induces a “twilight state” of consciousness, a combination of pain-relieving and memory-suppressing qualities. This state, known as “dissociative anesthesia,” was first studied in humans in the 1960s and has been used in various medical contexts since.
Another possible source behind the ‘ketamine is a horse tranquilizer’ myth may stem from a misunderstanding of dosing. Humans are prescribed ketamine based on many factors, including the FDA-approved application for the ketamine and the unique physique of the individual. With the average racehorse weighing 1,200 pounds and the average American male weighing 200 pounds, the dosing would be drastically different, regardless of application. Simply stated, the dosing of ketamine in horses and the dosing of ketamine in humans will vary significantly. Ultimately, what’s important to recognize is the use of ketamine in veterinary science, and mental health is popular because it is considered safe.
Ketamine Myth #5: Ketamine-assisted therapy is only suitable for severe cases of PTSD and mood disorders.
Debunked: ketamine-assisted therapy can benefit individuals across a broad spectrum of trauma-induced conditions, mood disorders, treatment-resistant depression, OCD, eating disorders, postpartum depression, alcohol and other substance use disorders, and more.
One significant contribution to the myth that ketamine is only suitable for severe cases of PTSD and mood disorders likely stems from limited knowledge of “root cause” healing and how a mental health condition evolves into a medical diagnosis. Often, mental health “labels” are manifestations of difficult life situations that have not been adequately dealt with or processed. Reactions to these negative events can eventually become entrenched in the brain. This is the “root cause” behind many diagnostic labels. As most traditional psychiatric treatments are the same, regardless of the diagnosis, this is largely considered symptom management. The benefit of ketamine is that it works on getting to the “root cause” of each patient’s unique condition for longer, more sustained healing.
Ketamine Myth #6: Ketamine-assisted therapy is unsafe and has concerning side effects.
Debunked: Like any medical intervention, ketamine-assisted therapy carries potential risks. However, when administered under proper medical supervision, it is safe and well-tolerated.
While the precise origin of this myth is uncertain, there is no shortage of theories. False information surrounding the safety of ketamine and its side effects can be traced back to a limited understanding of evolving research by a mass audience, misinterpretation of recreational ketamine use, veterinary applications, and sensationalized media coverage.
Ketamine has been in use since the 1960s. It has been on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Model Lists of Essential Medications every country should stock in adequate supply. It is the “go-to” medication for children in emergency rooms to alleviate pain and anxiety from fractured bones and other physical traumas. Ketamine is well-known for its excessive safety, given that it does not significantly reduce respiratory or heart function in doses that far exceed that needed for psychedelic therapy. A 2019 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Association demonstrated the minimal occurrence of adverse side effects and the overall safety of ketamine therapy.
Ketamine Myth #7: Ketamine-assisted therapy is purely symptom management and doesn’t solve the real problem, the “root cause.”
Debunked: When ketamine treatment is combined with proper preparation and integration in an appropriate setting, the exploration and processing of mystical experiences or perceptions becomes a more cohesive course of treatment.
The psychedelic experience allows the mind to experience a new way of seeing life, being more open to reframing life situations in a way not limited by difficult life situations from the past. This induces the neuroplastic process, allowing new pathways to form in the brain, making memories less likely to trigger difficult and painful emotions.
When a new and innovative form of treatment is introduced in a field with long-established practices, there will always be some resistance from traditionalists. This dynamic is quite common, with advancements in scientific understanding, evolving technologies, and patient outcomes. However, it is vital to approach this dynamic, recognizing that both old and new methods can work.
Key Insights from Debunking Ketamine Myths
It’s crucial to debunk myths surrounding ketamine and ketamine-assisted therapy. This innovative treatment has shown immense potential in treating a wide range of mental health conditions. By staying informed and understanding the scientific evidence, we can overcome the misconceptions and embrace the therapeutic potential of ketamine for mental health.