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Is ketamine FDA-approved for PTSD and depression?

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

In September, we recognize and honor National Suicide Prevention Week from Sunday, September 10th to Saturday, September 16th. This week is a time to foster compassion, support, and hope for those in need, work we’re proud to do at Freedom Ketamine Treatment Centers. If you’re ever experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the national, toll-free 988 hotline.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published new guidance in June 2023 on ketamine infusion therapy and other psychedelics to “provide general considerations to sponsors developing psychedelic drugs for treatment of medical conditions.” This move was likely done in response to increasing published research demonstrating how hallucinogenic drugs taken in clinical settings and accompanied by therapy can help battle depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This research has been especially popular in recent years, notably among veteran communities, who have been looking for more efficient treatment options for frequently-diagnosed disorders. The traditional medication prescribed for PTSD has historically been SSRIs, which do little to combat symptoms such as nightmares.

Medical professional comforting someone getting an infusion

In fact, Daniele Piomelli, neuroscientist and director of UC Irvine‘s Center for the Study of Cannabis, said in an interview that antidepressants work “fairly well” in only 30% of the patients with major depression. He added that they work “OK” for another 30%, and don’t work at all in the last third of patients.

What is ketamine infusion therapy, and what are its benefits?

Ketamine infusion therapy is an emerging option which radically, quickly, and safely combats the symptoms of common mental health issues, and has been gaining popularity over the last two decades for its incredible efficacy in treating these common disorders. In a 2021 study by the American Journal of Psychiatry, 10 out of 15 patients with PTSD who were given ketamine saw a significant reduction of symptoms as early as the next day.

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic with hallucinogenic properties that has been safely used in hospital settings since the 1960’s. Researchers have explored the drug’s various uses, including “off-label” FDA use with potential to treat these mental disorders.

Ketamine is administered orally, intranasally, or via IV. The drug is most effective when administered directly into the bloodstream within forty minutes. Ketamine then works by blocking receptors receiving a neurotransmitter called glutamate. As a result, the brain’s electrical flow is improved, and the patient can experience reduced symptoms of depression.

Through a process called synaptogenesis, ketamine helps the brain’s neurons communicate with each other more effectively, improving cognitive function, mood, and patterns of thought. Even small doses of ketamine can have profound results. The drug has been used among indigenous cultures for thousands of years, but is still gaining traction in the U.S.

Why isn’t ketamine used more widely in the medical industry?

Early medicine in the U.S. initiated testing on ketamine and other psychedelics for their treatment of common mental health issues. However, those researchers abruptly stopped after the Controlled Substances Act of 1971. “These potential tools have been set aside with no good reason. There were political reasons, ideological reasons, but no good medical reasons,” Piomelli, quoted earlier, says.

Dr. Tiffany Farchione of the FDA‘s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research notes, "Psychedelic drugs show initial promise as potential treatments for mood, anxiety, and substance use disorder.” As long as their therapeutic potential is evaluated in a controlled environment, ketamine and similar drugs have much to offer.

John Hopkins University adds, "Psychedelics are considered an experimental treatment for mental health conditions that are not typically habit-forming and have low toxicity.” They must be treated with “respect” while monitored in clinical settings.

How can veterans benefit from ketamine infusion therapy?

Ketamine infusion therapy sparks hope for veterans struggling with depression, PTSD, or increased risk of suicide. Advocates such as Tom Sauer of Miramar Health, a mental health and addiction treatment company, are cautiously optimistic about ketamine, understanding the urgent need to develop more effective treatments for mental disorders: “As long as patients are carefully screened and prepared for the experience, there’s room for hope,” he remarked.

Additionally, in an observational study conducted in 2019, 30 U.S. military veterans with combat-related PTSD underwent a series of one-hour ketamine infusions. The subjects reported immediate improvement in their PTSD symptoms.

The report shows that although the veterans didn’t dramatically decrease their substance abuse during the study, they reported a decreased desire to drink alcohol after ketamine infusions. This observation is critical, mainly because of ketamine’s false reputation as a “party drug.”

How can I get the most out of ketamine infusion therapy?

Freedom Ketamine Treatment Centers offer ketamine infusions in Bethesda, Rockville, Columbia, Vienna, Reston, and Marshall. Founded by Dr. Aubrey Verdun, a double-board certified anesthesiologist and pain management physician, our offices offer free patient consultations to determine the appropriateness and safety of the treatment for each individual.

We take pride in guiding our patients through the process with our compassionate care team, and monitor our patients in-office every step of the way. Schedule your consultation today and find your path to healing with us!

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