Is Ketamine a Psychedelic Medicine? Unveiling its Potential in Psychedelic Therapy

The classification of ketamine as a psychedelic has been a topic of debate within the scientific and medical communities. While ketamine does induce hallucinations and altered states of consciousness, it differs from classical psychedelics in its mechanism of action and phenomenological effects.
Bella Ward
4-5 min.

Ketamine: Exploring its Psychedelic Nature

Ketamine is a prescription drug primarily used for general anesthesia. It is well-known for its ability to induce dissociative and anesthetic effects. However, in recent years, another aspect of ketamine has garnered significant attention – its psychedelic properties. Despite being primarily used as an anesthetic, ketamine has been found to induce psychedelic experiences and hallucinations when administered in subanesthetic doses. This raises the question: Is ketamine considered a psychedelic?

Is Ketamine Considered a Psychedelic?

The classification of ketamine as a psychedelic has been a topic of debate within the scientific and medical communities.While ketamine does induce hallucinations and altered states of consciousness, it differs from classical psychedelics in its mechanism of action and phenomenological effects.Classical psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin, and DMT, primarily work on serotonin receptors to produce their characteristic effects. In contrast, ketamine acts on the brain's glutamate systems and NMDA receptors, which are involved in modulating synaptic plasticity and neural communication.

While ketamine's psychedelic nature is subject to interpretation, evidence suggests that it shares neurobiological and phenomenological characteristics with classical psychedelics. This has led researchers to advocate for the classification of ketamine as a psychedelic medicine, emphasizing its potential in the field of psychedelic therapy. Recognizing ketamine as a psychedelic medicine can enhance mental health outcomes and expand treatment options for individuals suffering from various psychiatric conditions.

To illustrate this point, let's consider the use of ketamine in the treatment of alcoholism. A controlled clinical trial found that ketamine-assisted psychotherapy increased the efficacy of alcoholism treatment. The study reported that 65.8% of alcoholic patients in the ketamine-assisted psychotherapy group achieved total abstinence for more than one year, compared to only 24% in the conventional treatment control group. These findings highlight the potential of ketamine as a valuable tool in the treatment of addiction, further supporting its classification as a psychedelic medicine.

Effects of Ketamine on the Mind and Body

Ketamine's effects on the mind and body are unique and distinct from those of classical psychedelics. When administered in subanesthetic doses, ketamine evokes a gentle lifting of existential burden and a dissociative effect.This dissociation from the body can lead to a sense of detachment from the physical body, alterations in perception of time and space, and even out-of-body experiences. Unlike classical psychedelics, which directly stimulate pyramidal cells in the brain, ketamine works by relaxing chandelier cells, allowing pyramidal cells to become more active and interactive. This different mechanism of action sets ketamine apart from other psychedelics and contributes to its distinct phenomenological effects.

For example, ketamine therapy has shown promise in the treatment of depression. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry reported that ketamine infusion therapy resulted in rapid and significant reductions in depressive symptoms in individuals with treatment-resistant depression. The study also noted that the effects of ketamine were more pronounced in individuals who had previously failed to respond to traditional antidepressant medications. This highlights the unique therapeutic potential of ketamine in addressing treatment-resistant depression.

Additionally, ketamine's effects are dose-dependent and can be controlled by clinicians in real-time. This allows for a more tailored approach to ketamine therapy, where the dosage can be adjusted to suit the individual's needs. Ketamine's dissociative effects may be particularly beneficial for patients with long-term suffering and trauma, as they force the defensive neuro-architecture to submit to a larger conscious state. It is important to note, however, that the duration and long-term effects of ketamine therapy may differ from those of classical psychedelics. Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and long-lasting effects of ketamine therapy.

Differentiating Classic and Non-Classic Psychedelics

To fully appreciate the psychedelic nature of ketamine, it is essential to differentiate classic psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin, from non-classic psychedelics like ketamine. Classic psychedelics primarily work on serotonin receptors, leading to powerful and challenging experiences. In contrast, ketamine has a softer nature that makes it valuable for treating depression and anxiety. While classical psychedelics can evoke profound emotional and perceptual shifts, ketamine offers a gentler and more manageable experience.

Understanding the distinction between classic and non-classic psychedelics is crucial for exploring the unique therapeutic potential of ketamine. By recognizing the differences, healthcare professionals can tailor treatment approaches to the specific needs of individuals. For example, individuals with severe anxiety may benefit from the calming and dissociative effects of ketamine, while those seeking transformative and potentially challenging experiences may find classical psychedelics more suitable.

Ketamine's Stimulant Properties

Ketamine is not classified as a stimulant, despite its effects on the mind and body. While ketamine may induce certain stimulating effects, it acts differently from traditional stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine. Ketamine's dissociative properties and its influence on glutamate receptors distinguish it from stimulants. It is important to differentiate ketamine from stimulants to ensure a proper understanding of its pharmacological profile and potential uses.

For instance, ketamine's dissociative effects can create a sense of detachment from the physical body and a feeling of floating or weightlessness. This unique sensation is distinct from the energizing effects of stimulants, which typically increase alertness, focus, and physical activity.

Ketamine Therapy for Depression and Anxiety

Ketamine has emerged as a promising therapy for depression and anxiety. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing depressive symptoms and improving overall well-being. Ketamine therapy should only be conducted under the supervision of a medical professional and not in combination with other drugs. The therapeutic use of ketamine offers a valuable option for individuals struggling with depression and anxiety, particularly those who have not responded to traditional treatments.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that ketamine infusion therapy led to significant and rapid reductions in suicidal ideation in individuals with major depressive disorder. The study reported that the effects of ketamine were noticeable within hours and lasted up to seven days after a single infusion. Such rapid and pronounced effects make ketamine a promising intervention for individuals in acute distress.

Ketamine's Role in Psychedelic Therapy

Ketamine shares similarities with classical psychedelics in terms of inducing unique insights, emotions, and ego dissolution. Including ketamine in the repertoire of psychedelic therapy modalities can expand treatment options and potentially improve outcomes. The integration of ketamine into psychedelic therapy practices holds promise for addressing a wide range of mental health challenges and promoting personal growth and healing.

To illustrate this, let's consider the use of ketamine in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traditional treatments for PTSD often focus on symptom management but may not address the underlying trauma. Ketamine therapy, on the other hand, has shown potential in facilitating the processing of traumatic memories and promoting emotional healing. By temporarily dissociating individuals from their traumatic experiences, ketamine therapy allows for a larger conscious state that can facilitate the integration and resolution of traumatic memories.

The unique effects of ketamine, such as its dissociative properties and its influence on glutamate receptors, offer a distinct therapeutic approach compared to classical psychedelics. By incorporating ketamine into psychedelic therapy practices, healthcare professionals can provide a more comprehensive and tailored treatment experience for individuals seeking healing and personal growth.

Safety and Legality of Ketamine Therapy

Ketamine therapy is legal for the treatment of depression in the United States. However, it is crucial to undergo ketamine therapy under the supervision of a medical professional to ensure safety and proper administration. The legal status of ketamine therapy highlights the recognition of its potential benefits in mental health treatment.

It is important to note that ketamine therapy is not without risks. Common side effects of ketamine include dissociation, increased blood pressure, and elevated heart rate. These side effects underscore the importance of receiving ketamine therapy in a controlled medical setting, where vital signs can be monitored, and any adverse reactions can be promptly addressed.

Moreover, ketamine therapy should only be administered by trained professionals who are knowledgeable about its potential risks and benefits. Proper screening and assessment are crucial to ensure that ketamine therapy is appropriate for the individual's specific needs and medical history.

Microdosing Ketamine 

The Joyous approach to mental health treatment employs the use of microdosing ketamine, which is a significant shift from the high, recreational doses that often result in a dissociative state known as a "k-hole". This microdosing method is designed to provide the therapeutic benefits of ketamine without the intense, and often distressing, dissociative effects associated with higher doses.

At Joyous, we administer a psycholytic dose of ketamine, which is a lower daily dose that promotes a state of openness and relaxation. This allows for easier access to the subconscious without significantly altering the patient's state of consciousness in a way that can induce anxiety or fear. This approach encourages the formation of new neural pathways that can help to heal unhealthy thought patterns and foster self-compassion. It also enables patients to reduce their reactive and judgmental triggers.

Our treatment protocol starts with a dosage of 10-20mg daily, which is then gradually increased until the desired treatment outcome is achieved. This careful, measured approach ensures that the patient does not experience the intense, often terrifying sensations associated with a "k-hole". While the FDA notes that "at-home administration of compounded ketamine presents additional risks because a health care provider is not available onsite to monitor for serious adverse outcomes resulting from sedation and dissociation," our treatment plan requires no downtime, special environments, or "trip sitters", because our dose is low enough not to cause an overwhelming psychedelic experience, and our providers monitor side effects, progress, and medication impact virtually after every dose. This means our  patients can safely take their medication from the comfort of their own home and continue to live their normal lives.

In contrast to companies that provide psychedelic doses of ketamine, such as Mindbloom, Joyous' unique selling proposition lies in our commitment to personalized, low-dose treatments that prioritize patient safety and comfort. We believe in the healing power of ketamine, but we also understand the importance of administering this powerful substance in a controlled, responsible manner. Our approach has been developed over years of clinical use and patient responses, and we are dedicated to continuously refining our methods to ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients.

Conclusion: Ketamine Psychedelic Nature

In conclusion, ketamine's classification as a psychedelic remains a subject of debate, but evidence suggests that it shares neurobiological and phenomenological characteristics with classical psychedelics. Ketamine's unique mechanisms of action, dissociative effects, and therapeutic potential set it apart from traditional stimulants and make it a valuable tool in the field of mental health treatment. While ketamine therapy offers promising outcomes for individuals with depression and anxiety, it should be approached with caution and conducted under the supervision of a medical professional to ensure safety and maximize its therapeutic benefits. The recognition of ketamine's psychedelic nature opens up new possibilities for innovative therapeutic approaches and expanded access to psychedelic therapy.

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