Ketamine Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Ketamine is the new kid at pharmacology school. Ketamine was originally developed as a veterinary tranquilizer or a “dissociative anesthetic.” Though it gained its notoriety as a drug of abuse during the rave years of the late 80s and early 90s, ketamine began proving itself to the medical community on the battlefields of Vietnam. The anesthetic tranquilizer was ideal for wounded soldiers being extracted from volatile situations. In the years since, combat medics and first responders the world over have used ketamine in this capacity to great effect.
There is, however, groundbreaking new research into the drug’s psychotherapeutic benefits, particularly in the treatment of PTSD and depression. Though ketamine’s exact chemical mechanism remains unknown, it is understood that the drug operates on the brain’s NMDA receptors. Ketamine binds to the NMDA receptors, which increases the levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate. The NMDA blockage and the co-occurring abundance of glutamate activates AMPA receptors. AMPA receptors release chemicals that allow neurons to communicate with one another along new pathways in a process called “synaptogenesis.” Ketamine may also reduce neurological inflammation.
The most incredible aspect of ketamine is its rapid efficacy. Unlike SSRIs and other forms of therapy, ketamine can improve the patient’s condition almost immediately. Thus, ketamine proves particularly effective for patients who are suicidal or in crisis. In a 2014 trial, 29 patients suffering from PTSD were given intravenous ketamine. After the first day, the ketamine-receiving group’s average score on the IES-R scale (a metric for measuring traumatic experience) fell from 46 to 14.
That research happened nearly six years ago. Now deployed by medical organizations like the Veteran’s Administration, ketamine-therapy offers countless examples of diminished depression and mitigated trauma. Though ketamine does have side effects (high-blood pressure, disorientation, hallucination) and the drug has potential for abuse, the misplaced stigma surrounding “special K” is disappearing. Doctors around the world are hailing ketamine as a miracle cure for depression and PTSD.
Now that’s special.