Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition most commonly associated with veterans of the military. In reality, anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event can deal with symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms could include flashbacks, severe anxiety, memory problems, depression, anger, and others. It can be chronic and disabling for many.
This study, published in February 2021, was the first randomized, controlled trial used to test the efficacy and safety of repeated ketamine infusions for the treatment of chronic PTSD. It was a randomized, double-blind parallel-arm controlled study conducted between June 2015 and January 2020 at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) Depression and Anxiety Center for Discovery and Treatment.
The study included individuals with chronic PTSD who were randomly assigned to receive six infusions of either intravenous ketamine treatments, or a placebo, over two weeks. Clinicians and patients reported on outcomes after the infusions, rating primarily the severity of PTSD symptoms.
Those who received the ketamine infusions (and not the placebo) showed a significantly greater improvement in their symptoms compared to the placebo group. Overall, ketamine infusions were well-tolerated by participants, without serious side effects.
Participants for the study were not excluded based on current treatment using medications. Those currently prescribed antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers were permitted to join the group. This is important to note because our practice strongly encourages the use of traditional treatment for depression, PTSD, and chronic pain in additional to ketamine infusions. Intravenous ketamine infusion therapy is best used as a complement to existing treatment plans under physician or therapist care.
This study is groundbreaking, in that it provides the first evidence of the incredible nature of this treatment option for reducing symptom severity in those with chronic PTSD.
How does ketamine work to treat PTSD?
Research into the use of ketamine is ongoing, but studies show that the drug, which was originally used as an anesthetic, can temporarily block neurotransmitter receptors in specific areas of the brain. In doing this, ketamine can make way for repair of neural pathways, which in turn reduces symptoms of PTSD and other treatment-resistant mental conditions.
Is ketamine safe to use?
Despite ketamine’s notoriety as a party drug, infusions are considered to be very safe. This drug was originally used in the 60’s as an anesthetic, in doses up to 5x higher than the ones we use to treat PTSD. It’s administered under physician care, and given in low doses.
What can I expect during a session?
Following an intake consultation to determine the appropriateness and safety of the treatment, patients are guided each step of the way by a physician. Our offices are specifically designed with patient safety and comfort in mind. During an infusion session, you would have a private room (where a loved one is welcome to join you), for the duration of your treatment, and a short period afterward for observation.
Many patients listen to music and wear sunglasses during treatment. It can be difficult to carry on a conversation during an infusion session, so we encourage most people to simply relax. Most of our patients report feeling tired or tingly during treatment. These sensations generally wear off quickly, but we ask that you have someone else drive you home following your session.