Frequently Asked Questions about Ketamine Therapy


As we’ve written on the blog before, ketamine therapy is a type of mental health treatment that uses ketamine (a psychedelic drug) to help relieve emotional pain. Ketamine therapy is used for chronic pain as well. Research shows that ketamine can dramatically improve the symptoms of depression for people who have been resistant to treatment in the past. Not only is ketamine therapy exceedingly effective, but it also works quickly, meaning fewer sessions and faster relief. Some folks don’t respond to the traditional treatments for depression such as talk therapy or antidepressants, but research shows that ketamine therapy can be powerfully beneficial and successful for up to 70% of patients, whereas antidepressants are only effective for around 20% of patients. 


Since ketamine therapy is still a relatively new option in the mental health world, it makes sense that people may have questions about it. After all, if you’ve heard of ketamine before you may be confused because you associated it with a surgical anesthetic or as a street drug. There is still a lot of research ongoing with ketamine treatment for mental illness, but what we know so far is very promising. If you are still not sure exactly how it works or have questions about the process, here are some frequently asked questions about ketamine therapy:


How does ketamine work? 


While scientists are still trying to work this out exactly, the research so far shows that ketamine works by changing the way our brain cells communicate. Ketamine blocks a receptor in our brains called NDMA that is thought to play a role in depression. Overall ketamine is believed to create neuroplastic changes in the brain which facilitates the growth of new neuropathways. Which is a fancy way of saying that it basically re-wires your brain. Some experts compare ketamine’s effect on the brain to a hardware fix on a computer versus a software fix (which is compared to antidepressants).


Will insurance cover this?


Using ketamine to treat mood disorders is considered an off label use of the drug because ketamine is not FDA approved to treat depression. Since it is not FDA, it will not be covered by insurance. However, off-label use of medications is common – around 30% of all medications are prescribed for off label use. The only reason, ketamine is not FDA approved for mental health treatment is because of the expensive and large clinical trials needed for approval.


What’s the minimum age of treatment? 


There are no set age limitations for the use of ketamine therapy. 


What disorders does it treat? 


Ketamine therapy can be used to treat a variety of disorders, such as: 

  • Depression (especially treatment-resistant depression)
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Suicidal ideation
  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • Chronic pain


How will I know it worked? 


Your provider will assess you before and after your treatment to compare results and to make sure the treatment is the best fit for you. Some patients report feeling immediately better right after their first dose, while others report an instant decrease in thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation. Everyone is different, so talk to your provider first about how you will determine if it’s working for you. 


How long does it last? How often should I get treatment? 


One of the most beneficial impacts of ketamine treatment is that it can have very long-lasting effects on mood disorders. Some people can see an improvement in as little as an hour after treatment, but for other folks, it can take a few more sessions to feel a difference. Many patients will also come in for maintenance treatments after their initial treatment of 6 infusions over the course of 2 or 3 weeks. Additional treatment maintenance might also occur once a month, or as needed.


Is Ketamine addictive?


You may have heard of ketamine before as a street/club drug – because it has dissociative properties and some people take it in high doses recreationally to create a sort of “out-of-body” experience. However, the dose given in a clinical ketamine treatment professionally observed by medical practitioners is a much smaller and safer dosage than those who use it recreationally. There is also no research showing that ketamine is addictive.   


How will I feel during the infusion?


Since this is a very low dose of ketamine compared to what is used for anesthesia, you will be awake during the infusion. Physically, you may feel fairly sedated. You may experience a feeling of being disconnected from your body. You might notice that you no longer feel any aches and pains that you previously came in with (ketamine acts as a pain reliever). Since ketamine is a psychedelic drug, you may perceive your surroundings differently than you normally do. Other things that patients report during ketamine treatment are mild visual hallucinations, changes in perspective, light and sound sensitivity, and mild dissociation. 


How does it compare to other treatments? 


Ketamine treatment acts fast to benefit patients, whereas traditional methods of treatment, like counseling or antidepressants, can take weeks to work. Not to mention, that not everyone responds to antidepressants in the same way, which usually means some trial and error as to what type to try and what dose to take. Ketamine therapy takes away that guesswork, and research shows that it can be effective for up to 70% of people, which is far higher than the 20% of people who are helped by antidepressants. 


Ultimately, ketamine is a novel and effective method to treat mental health issues safely and quickly. If you have questions about whether ketamine therapy is right for you, give our office a call


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