People with varying degrees of mental illness and chronic pain conditions often undergo psychotherapy with long-term medicine like antidepressants. But not all treatment works against depression, which is why some medical professionals are now combining psychotherapy with ketamine administered in low, controlled doses.
What is Psychotherapy?
“Psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health providers.”
During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition, behaviors, moods, feelings, and thoughts. Psychotherapy may help you regain control of your life and teach you to react to challenging situations with healthy coping mechanisms. It can help eliminate or manage worrisome symptoms to function more healthily and increase wellness and healing.
Ketamine and the Brain
Ketamine started as an anesthetic in the 1960s, but its medical use has dramatically expanded since then. Today, the medicine is still used for general anesthesia and soothes the symptoms of many physical and mental health conditions that are not receptive to standard treatment.
When we talk about how ketamine works, it’s important to recognize that it’s considered a dissociative drug. These kinds of medicine can distort how we perceive sight and sound and create a sense of detachment, or dissociation, from the world around us. But these effects aren’t hallucinatory, particularly when ketamine is administered in low, controlled doses.
Ketamine acts on two primary neurotransmitters in your brain: GABA and glutamate. GABA is inhibitory, meaning that when it’s activated, it lowers the chance its host neuron will go off. Glutamate is excitatory, raising the chance the host neuron will fire. Glutamate acts as a gate in your brain, letting ions rush in – sometimes too many, causing problems with perceiving pain, making decisions, and being affected emotionally. But ketamine can block that gate and boost glutamate levels, which correlates with the dissociative states ketamine creates. It also fosters neuronal growth and may repair or strengthen neurotransmitters, leading to pain perception and other brain functions.
What Are the Immediate Effects of Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy?
“Ketamine may provide a rapid, robust, but transient antidepressant effect in MDD and BD. It appears particularly interesting in patients experiencing suicidal thoughts with its rapid effect in suicidal ideation.”
The effects of ketamine therapy on depression and mental illness garner much attention. A study discussed in Cambridge University Press (Ketamine for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders: a comprehensive systematic review) reported on its success:
Less severe unipolar depression within the range of one to 24 hours, with a duration of up to two weeks.
Bipolar depression respite was also quick as four hours following administration and working within 24 hours. Positive outcomes lasted for as long as three days and, in some cases, seven days.
Yale Medicine has also reported similar benefits of ketamine for treating depression. When combined with psychotherapy, ketamine benefits are even more noteworthy. Low-dose ketamine induces a dissociative state and allows a person access to their unconsciousness, reducing unpleasant or insufferable memories, feelings, and phobias, all of which are often repressed and inaccessible under normal circumstances.
Ketamine gives people the strength to recover from mental illnesses like depression and learn strategies to manage different pain symptoms.
What Can Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy Treat?
Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy can treat mental and physical health conditions which sometimes don’t respond well to regular treatment:
- Depression. Ketamine has been used to effectively treat depression symptoms for decades.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobia-specific disorders).
Substance use disorders (abnormal use of alcohol, pain medications, or illegal drugs).
- Chronic pain (arthritis, back, neck, cancer, or injury related).
If you’re concerned about potential side effects, ask your medical professional for more information.
Psychotherapy is normally the preferred method for treating a wide range of mental health issues and symptoms of physical pain conditions. Still, it’s often more successful when combined with ketamine therapy. Mental health professionals may recommend both used together, encouraging patients to commit to long-term treatment to get better.