For people diagnosed with severe and treatment-resistant mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, ketamine therapy can offer a much-needed reprieve from the symptoms that often interfere with their daily lives.
But being relatively new in the world of psychiatric treatments, and considering the fact that ketamine is still largely used as an off-label medication, there are a lot of questions surrounding what patients can expect during ketamine treatment.
What is Ketamine Therapy?
Ketamine has been used extensively for decades as an anesthetic in surgery rooms. However, recent studies have shown that when administered in small doses, ketamine has a strong antidepressant effect and can be used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, and in some cases, chronic pain.
Unlike traditional medications, ketamine works quickly to provide long-term remission from symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, and chronic pain, with little to no side effects. This, combined with the high efficacy rate, makes ketamine therapy a game-changer for people who have not had success with other treatment options.
How Does Ketamine Therapy Work?
While the exact mechanism of how ketamine works is still being investigated, preliminary studies show that it works by restoring neuronal connections in parts of the brain that are responsible for mood and emotional processing. The connections are often lost due to external stressors.
This restoration of neural pathways allows patients to experience a significant reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms, often within hours of treatment. The “healing” effect on the brain is also thought to reverse central sensitization, a common factor in the development of chronic pain.
The Ketamine Experience
During ketamine therapy, you will be asked to lie down on a couch or bed in a comfortable, relaxing room. Your doctor will then administer the ketamine – usually through an IV line (intravenously). The ketamine experience is unique for everyone and can be described as relaxed, euphoric, or dreamlike.
Some people will see colorful patterns or shapes behind their eyelids, while others report feeling like they are floating outside their bodies (depersonalization).
Ketamine treatment can also bring up unpleasant memories, which can be a little overwhelming for some people. But there is no need to worry – this is all perfectly normal. What’s more, a medical team will be there with you throughout the infusion process to ensure you feel safe and comfortable. In some cases, a therapist may be present to guide you through your emotions and offer reassurance as needed.
Some people may also feel dizzy, fatigued, or nauseous during or immediately after treatment. A ketamine infusion session can last between 40 minutes and one hour, and the side effects of the medication will start to wear off soon after.
Most patients will report feeling an improvement in their symptoms within a few hours after treatment, and the therapeutic effects can last up to several weeks or months after the initial course of treatment.
Ketamine therapy is safe and well-tolerated, and has a wide range of applications in the mental health and chronic pain management spaces. However, it’s important to remember that ketamine is not a magic bullet and may not work for everyone. But, for many people who have tried other treatments without any success, ketamine could be just what you need to turn your life around.