Ketamine for OCD: How Does it Work?

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Over the past 20 years, ketamine has proved to be beneficial for people who have depression and certain other mental health concerns. Research on using ketamine for OCD indicates that the medication may also be able to alleviate the distressing obsessions and compulsions that are characteristic of this complex condition.

History of Ketamine Therapy

Ketamine therapy has received widespread attention in recent years – but the use of this drug for medical and mental health purposes began more than 50 years ago:

  • Ketamine was originally synthesized in 1962
  • The first clinical study on its use as an anesthetic appeared in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia in 1966
  • The drug earned approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1970.
  • Research into ketamine’s ability to act as an antidepressant begin in the early 1970s.

The initial efforts to explore ketamine’s mental health benefits were short-lived, due in large part to concerns about its side effects and legal status. The drug’s potential in a mental health context received renewed attention in the 1990s, and studies into its effectiveness continue today.

In 2019, the FDA approved Spravato, a nasal spray that contains esketamine (a ketamine derivative) to help people who have treatment-related depression, or TRD. In the years since, many doctors have also prescribed ketamine on an off-label basis to treat people who have been affected by anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other conditions.

It is important to note that, while ketamine’s FDA approval is limited to TRD, its off-label use for other purposes by qualified professionals in the United States is both legal and ethical.

How is Ketamine Used for OCD?

Individuals who take medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD typically receive prescriptions for antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds. Often, they will be given a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. This type of medication works by increasing the amount of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in a person’s central nervous system (CNS). 

Ketamine for OCD works in a different way – though experts aren’t 100% sure exactly what that way is. Here are a few things that they do know about how ketamine works:

  • Ketamine attaches to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the CNS. This prevents glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter, from attaching to these receptors.
  • Ketamine also attaches to other receptors in the CNS, which disrupts the functioning of other naturally produced brain chemicals that may be having a negative impact.
  • At the outset of a ketamine infusion session, the drug appears to activate opioid receptors. This appears to be related with the ability of ketamine to rapidly reduce symptoms of depression, OCD, and other mental health disorders.
  • When a person’s body processes ketamine, it creates byproducts that are referred to as metabolites. These metabolites may be responsible for some of the longer-lasting beneficial aspects of ketamine therapy for OCD.

Some sources have also noted that ketamine appears to promote neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to repair or reorganize neural connections.

Types of Ketamine Therapy that Are Best for OCD

Ketamine can be ingested in various ways:

  • Orally in capsule form
  • As a nasal spray
  • Via intravenous (IV) infusion
  • Via intramuscular (IM) injection

When people take part in ketamine therapy for OCD, the drug is often administered via IV infusion.

The first clinical trial to investigate if ketamine could treat OCD occurred in 2012. This trial involved 15 participants, some of whom received ketamine and some of whom were given a placebo. Both the ketamine and the placebo were administered via 40-minute IV infusions 

According to an August 2017 Stanford Medicine Magazine article about that trial, it yielded extremely promising results:

  • Within 20 minutes, trial participants who received ketamine infusions said they were experiencing “dramatic decreases” in OCD symptoms.
  • The beneficial effects of ketamine lasted for about a week and a half after the infusions.
  • One participant who received ketamine said, “I tried to have OCD thoughts, but I couldn’t.”

The participants who received ketamine infusions during this clinical trial experienced some dissociative side effects, but these symptoms dissipated within about two hours.

This study does not mean that infusion therapy is the only effective way of using ketamine to treat OCD. Prior to starting this type of treatment, you should discuss the benefits and potential drawbacks of the various forms of ketamine therapy with the professional who is providing your care. Consulting with a reputable treatment provider can help you determine which type of ketamine therapy is right for you.

Explore How We Use Ketamine Therapy for OCD

If you are interested in receiving ketamine therapy for OCD, Conscious Health may be able to help. Our treatment center in Los Angeles, California, is a trusted source of life-affirming outpatient care for adults whose lives have been impacted by obsessive-compulsive disorder and a host of additional mental health concerns. 

At Conscious Health, we understand the many ways that untreated OCD can impact a person’s life, and we are committed to providing the focused solutions that can empower you to take greater control of your thoughts and actions.

Prior to starting treatment with us, you will complete a thorough assessment to identify the full scope of your needs. The information that we gather during your assessment will form the foundation of your customized treatment plan. If we determine that ketamine for OCD is right for you, we can incorporate this service into your plan.

To learn more about ketamine therapy or any other aspect of OCD treatment at Conscious Recovery, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call our center today.

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