When people use ketamine for depression under medical supervision, doctors don’t consider it highly addictive. But misuse can lead to addiction.

Ketamine was originally developed as an anesthetic in the 1960s. Its use for depression began to emerge in the early 2000s when studies showed its rapid antidepressant effects, especially in treatment-resistant depression.

Although some research indicates its effectiveness, particularly for severe and treatment-resistant depression, studies are ongoing to understand its long-term effects and addiction potential.

When people use ketamine under medical supervision for depression, doctors consider its risk of addiction fairly low. This is due to its controlled and monitored administration.

However, ketamine does have the potential for misuse and addiction, especially when people use it recreationally or in high doses. People with a history of drug addiction may face greater risks, and the use of generic ketamine alternatives in less closely monitored settings may have a greater risk of misuse.

Studies in both animals and humans suggest that repeated low dose ketamine infusions may have addictive properties and may lead to cognitive deficits. Female rodents, particularly those with high levels of ovarian hormones, seem to be more susceptible to ketamine’s addictive potential.

However, it’s unclear if there’s a sex difference in humans regarding sensitivity to ketamine’s antidepressant and addictive potential. Ongoing clinical trials are expected to shed light on this issue.

Here are some precautions your doctor may take to minimize the risk of addiction:

  • Patient screening: Your doctor will likely conduct a thorough evaluation of your medical history, including any history of substance misuse or addiction, to determine if ketamine treatment is appropriate for you.
  • Low doses: Doctors typically administer ketamine treatments for depression at lower doses than those used recreationally. This helps reduce the likelihood of developing a dependence on the drug.
  • Limited frequency: Treatment sessions are usually spaced out over time to minimize the risk of developing tolerance or dependence.
  • Medical supervision: Ketamine treatments are often administered in a clinical setting under the supervision of a medical professional. This allows for careful monitoring of the treatment and any potential side effects.
  • Patient education: Your doctor will likely educate you about the risks of ketamine treatment, including the potential for addiction, and provide guidance on how to minimize these risks.
  • Regular monitoring: Your doctor may schedule regular follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and assess any potential signs of addiction or misuse.

Ketamine treatments for depression can offer both benefits and risks. Here are some of the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Rapid relief: Research suggests that a single dose of ketamine has rapid effects on depressive symptoms, lasting up to a week, possibly due to its impact on neuroplasticity. In contrast, traditional antidepressants can take weeks to be effective.
  • Effectiveness: Ketamine has been found to be effective in treating treatment-resistant depression. In a study comparing ketamine treatment with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in individuals with treatment-resistant depression, 55.4% of the ketamine group and 41.2% of the ECT group had a treatment response after the initial treatment phase.
  • Reduced suicidal thoughts: Ketamine has been shown to significantly reduce suicidal thoughts, compared with antidepressant use.
  • Well-tolerated: Ketamine is generally well-tolerated when administered in a controlled medical setting.

Cons:

  • Potential for misuse: Ketamine has the potential for misuse in some people, especially when used outside of a medical setting or at higher doses.
  • Side effects: Ketamine can cause side effects such as dissociation, hallucinations, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure.
  • Cost: Ketamine treatments can be expensive, especially since insurance may not cover them.
  • Lack of long-term data: Although ketamine has shown promising results in the short term, there is limited data on its long-term safety and effectiveness for treating depression.

Ketamine treatments for depression can vary in legality depending on the country and local regulations, as ketamine is often a controlled substance due to its misuse potential.

Most people receive ketamine treatment for depression through specialized clinics or centers set up for this purpose. Psychiatrists who offer ketamine treatment typically have additional training and certification in administering ketamine for mental health conditions.

Participating in clinical studies or trials can provide legal access to ketamine treatment under medical supervision. Make sure to always discuss participation in a clinical trial with your primary healthcare team, especially if it would include any changes to your ongoing treatment plan.

You can find clinical studies through several avenues:

  • ClinicalTrials.gov: This is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted worldwide. You can search for studies related to ketamine treatment for depression using keywords like “ketamine depression” or “ketamine clinical trial.”
  • Research institutions and hospitals: Contacting local research institutions, universities, and hospitals that specialize in mental health research may provide information on ongoing clinical studies in your area.
  • Ketamine clinics: Some ketamine clinics may conduct or participate in clinical studies. Inquiring at local ketamine clinics about any ongoing or upcoming studies is another approach.

Studies have suggested that ketamine has rapid antidepressant effects, especially in cases of treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine works differently from traditional antidepressants by targeting the brain’s glutamate system, which is involved in mood regulation.

Ketamine treatment is often available through specialized clinics or psychiatrists with specific training in ketamine therapy. If you’re interested in ketamine treatment for depression, start by consulting with a qualified provider who can assess whether ketamine is suitable for you.