When there are stories online calling ketamine a horse tranquilizer, it’s understandable for people to be concerned about safety. It’s smart to question the safety of any medication since they can have side effects and unintended results. It’s also understandable for people to question safety whenever a treatment is new or novel.
Right now psychedelic therapies are becoming more commonly used in the mental health field, and a lot of research is being done to explore therapeutic uses. One thing that has already been verified by many studies is that ketamine is relatively safe, particularly when compared to other medications.
Ketamine Treatments Aren’t New
Trying something new can feel risky, especially when it’s a medical treatment. The good news for people who are battling treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, PTSD and OCD is that ketamine isn’t actually new. Psychedelics have been used in psychotherapy since the 1950s for a variety of purposes. Back then psychiatrists identified ketamine as a possible therapy for a host of behavioral disorders and mental health problems.
Due to recreational use in the 1960s, ketamine research in the mental health field largely stopped. However, ketamine began being used as an anesthetic. In the last 70 years, hundreds of studies have proven the efficacy and safety of using ketamine. Today, numerous studies are once again underway to determine just how expansive ketamine therapy could be now that it’s known to be a safe treatment for a number of mental health disorders that don’t respond well to other medications.
Ketamine Has a Low Addiction Rate
One of the top safety concerns related to ketamine therapy is addiction. Anytime you are dealing with a narcotic this is going to be a reasonable concern. Fortunately, ketamine is a Schedule III drug partly because of its low addiction rate.
While there is a possibility for addiction to ketamine, in a clinical setting the risk is greatly reduced. Animal studies have revealed ketamine doesn’t affect dopamine production in the brain quite like other drugs. Because of this, it doesn’t have the same impact on the brain’s reward system that leads to repeat, habitual use.
In fact, studies are showing that ketamine therapy can actually help treat substance use disorders (SUD). Unlike some addiction treatments that are specific to a certain type of SUD, ketamine has shown to increase abstinence rates for numerous SUDs and studies involving more narcotics are underway.
Ketamine is Less Risky for the Respiratory System
Part of the reason why ketamine is a popular anesthesia is because it doesn’t suppress the respiratory system like other medications can. Some anesthesia and medications, like opioids, can lower respiratory drive and increase risk of upper airway collapse. Ketamine doesn’t have these properties and is considered to stabilize airways during loss-of-consciousness.
Ketamine Has Few Serious Side Effects
Some medications for depression and anxiety can work, but they could come with side effects that create new issues. In addition to impressive efficacy, ketamine is favored over other medications because there’s less risk of side effects. Research is still underway to examine short-term and long-term side effects of clinical ketamine use, but so far it’s promising.
Most of the possible short-term side effects of using ketamine are expected: nausea, disorientation, headache and drowsiness. The risk can be decreased by preparing for the treatment and giving yourself the time to process the medication. Following the treatment protocol helps to decrease the risk of long-term side effects, which include kidney damage, increased heart rate and blood pressure, respiratory depression and seizures.
The long-term effects that have been seen are from research involving recreational ketamine users. It’s important to keep in mind that ketamine therapy isn’t meant to be done regularly or for the rest of a person’s life. Clinicians use minimal dosage levels and space treatments out. Following the treatment protocols of a clinical doctor greatly mitigates the potential for long-term side effects.
When following the proper protocols less than 5% of study participants report having side effects after using at-home ketamine therapy. This is especially impressive given that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for depression have a higher rate of side effects.
Have other safety concerns or questions about at home ketamine therapy? Our Austin ketamine experts can explain how psychedelic therapy works and provide additional resources that explain the safety and side effects associated with ketamine treatments.