Elon Musk-backed ketamine therapy offers hope to patients with severe depression where other medication fails to help, experts claim

Ketamine is a powerful general anesthetic that is used to stop humans and animals experiencing pain during operations.

It started being used as a party drug in the late 2000s, with people taking it before raves for a more intense experience. 

It is used as an anesthetic, and has been in the national spotlight since the death of Colorado’s Elijah McClain, who struggled with police and was injected by paramedics with a dosage appropriate for someone weighing 200 pounds. He weighed 143 pounds. Colorado is now trying to limit first responders’ use of ketamine and other chemical restraints. 

What are the side effects? 

Ketamine causes a loss of feeling and paralysis of the muscles.

It can also lead to people experiencing hallucinations and a distortion of reality, which many call entering the ‘k-hole’.

This is when people believe they have spoken to God or a higher power, which can lead to addiction as they crave that experience.

Ketamine may also cause people to feel incapable of moving, or lead to panic attacks, confusion and memory loss.

Regular users can seriously damage their bladders, which may need to be surgically removed.

Other risks include a raised heart rate and blood pressure.

Paralysis of the muscles can leave people vulnerable to hurting themselves, while not feeling pain properly can cause them to underestimate any damage. 

Many claim ketamine withdrawal is worse than any other drug, with some feeling so depressed they contemplate suicide. 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Samaritans here.

How is it taken and what is the law around it? 

For medical use ketamine is liquid but the ‘street’ drug is normally a grainy, white powder.

In 1999, ketamine became a Schedule III non-narcotic substance under the Controlled Substances Act. It currently has accepted medical uses for short-term sedation and anesthesia. 

In 2019, the FDA approved a version of the drug for treatment-resistant depression, which is only available at a doctor’s office or a clinic. 

Is illegal use of ketamine common?

In May 2023, a new report found that law enforcement agencies seized more than 1,500 pounds of ketamine in 2022 – about 12 times more than in 2017.

Tennessee, Florida and California had the most seizures of the drug. However, it’s not clear whether those states have the highest usage. 

Medical-grade ketamine is typically in a liquid form and is often administered through an IV. 

But most of the illegally obtained ketamine was in a powder form, which means it risks being contaminated with other chemicals, in particular fentanyl.

How many people die from ketamine use? 

Exact data is hard to come by: unlike with cocaine, heroin, or opioids the CDC does not publish the data on monthly and annual deaths.

The number is low, especially when compared to drugs such as fentanyl, which in 2022 killed almost 74,000 people. 

Source: Talk to Frank, US Drug Enforcement Association 

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