What is Ketamine?
Ketamine is known to many as a powerful drug used only in hospitals and medical centers as an anesthetic. It has been used as anesthesia since its approval in the 1970s when it was first administered to soldiers with severe injuries in the Vietnam War.
Since the 1990s, ketamine has been used in lower doses to treat certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. More recent studies are also revealing ketamine as a potential treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
How does Ketamine Work?
Ketamine is a class III registered medicine, which means it is approved for use in hospitals and medical settings. It produces dissociative anesthesia (“detachment from surroundings”) and appears to induce this effect partially through antagonizing NDMA receptors in the brain.
Researchers believe that the stress caused by PTSD may impair the function of synaptic activity in the brain. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that has a central role in this impairment. Since ketamine has been shown to act on glutamate, it is theorized that this may help repair the connection between synapses.
How PTSD is Usually Treated?
Conventional therapies for PTSD have included SSRIs, such as sertraline and paroxetine. Occasionally, SNRIs and tricyclic antidepressants have also been used, along with benzodiazepines and antipsychotic medication. Unfortunately, many patients report continued symptoms with these therapies, or they are not tolerated due to severe side effects.
Does Ketamine Treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Preliminary data suggest that ketamine may be an effective alternative in the treatment of PTSD. One study found that ketamine therapy was associated with a “significant and rapid reduction in PTSD symptom severity, compared with midazolam, when assessed 24 hours after infusion.”
Another interesting case study described a patient who was given ketamine therapy for treatment-resistant Major Depressive Disorder. The ketamine had the unexpected benefit of temporarily resolving the patient’s PTSD symptoms as well.
A 2018 study in Australia found that oral ketamine is given in an outpatient setting, such as a physician’s office, reduced psychiatric hospital admissions for depression and PTSD by approximately 70 percent per patient. Both the number of admissions and the length of stay were reduced.
With more investigation, ketamine may prove to be an effective alternative to patients who have continued to experience symptoms of PTSD with conventional therapies. If you are experiencing persistent symptoms of PTSD, we encourage you to discuss treatment options with your doctor.