The Ketamine Cure

Source: David Dodge, The New York Times

Ketamine — an anesthetic first popular with the 1970s counterculture movement and then as a club drug known as “Special K” — has recently emerged as a promising mental health treatment. Unlike conventional antidepressants, which work by increasing serotonin levels, ketamine appears to impact a neurotransmitter called glutamate, which is thought to play a role in regulating mood.

In early trials, patients suffering from a wide range of drug-resistant mood disorders — including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder — have seen symptoms improve, often immediately.

Thanks to these success stories, hundreds of new ketamine providers have popped up across the country. Typically patients take ketamine through an IV, nasal spray or tablet once or twice a week for six to eight weeks (though some may need to take it longer). Sessions last between one and two hours and can cause feelings of dissociation, or feeling disconnected from reality, and euphoria.

Mr. Gathman, for instance, said the treatment made him “sleepy” and provoked an “out of body” experience. He described these sensations as “pleasant” — though he struggled with his balance and a sense of being “dazed” for several hours following each session. 

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