Using Ketamine for PTSD

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In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a ketamine variant to help people who have treatment-resistant depression. This medication has also proved to be effective when used on an off-label basis to address a variety of other mental health concerns, such as ketamine for PTSD. 

How Does Ketamine Treat PTSD? 

Interest in using ketamine for PTSD has been fueled in part by a relative dearth of medication options for people who have posttraumatic stress disorder.

Currently, only two drugs have earned FDA approval to treat PTSD: sertraline (which is marketed in the U.S. as Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil). These medications are both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which is a category of drugs that are most commonly prescribed to people who have depression.

While sertraline and paroxetine have helped some people, their effectiveness is far from universal. For example, according to a March 2023 review in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, only about 40% of PTSD patients respond to SSRIs, only about 30% achieve remission, and many have adverse reactions that cause them to stop using the medications. 

The same review also noted that patients may have to take SSRIs for as long as 12 weeks before they achieve any benefits from the medication. Some experts have noted an increase in self-harm and suicide during this latency period, particularly during the first seven to nine days after a PTSD patient starts to take an SSRI.

Given these limitations, there is obviously a need for more effective, faster-acting pharmacological solutions. Research suggests ketamine may be able to fill this gap.

Ketamine is a non-opioid dissociative anesthetic. Its typical effects include sedation, pain relief, improved mood, and temporary amnesia. Depending on the amount of ketamine a person receives, the medication can also cause disconcerting effects such as hallucinations, psychosis, and a sense of detachment from their body, thoughts, and surroundings. 

When a person receives ketamine, the medication attaches to receptors in the central nervous system that are involved in the transmission of an excitatory neurotransmitter called glutamate. 

Glutamate plays an important role in several vital functions, including emotions, cognition, learning, memory, and mood. Conversely, the abnormal production and transmission of glutamate has been linked with a variety of neurological and mental health concerns, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • PTSD

Ketamine’s effect on how neurons transmit glutamate can ease several common PTSD symptoms, such as traumatic memories, intense nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.

Ketamine also appears to boost serotonin levels in the central nervous system. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences mood, the sleep/wake cycle, sexual desire, and a host of other functions and characteristics.

In addition to triggering these important changes in the central nervous system, ketamine has also gained attention for the speed with which it can ease symptoms. 

For example, a recently published study involving animals found that neuroplasticity (which refers to the brain’s ability to heal structural and functional damage) began to improve within 24 hours after the administration of a subanesthetic dose of ketamine.

Please note that you should only receive ketamine for PTSD from a trained and experienced professional who is qualified to provide this type of therapy. The improper use of ketamine for either medical or recreational purposes can put you in danger of myriad negative outcomes, including overdose and death.

Types of Ketamine Therapy for Treating PTSD

Patients who receive ketamine for PTSD may receive the medication in a variety of ways, including orally, intranasally, and via either intravenous (IV) or intramuscular (IM) injection:

  • Oral: A 2017 study involving 37 participants with PTSD and depression found that orally administered ketamine therapy reduced hospital admissions by 65% and reduced the length of inpatient hospital stays by 70%. The researchers who conducted this study also reported that participants experienced “no serious adverse events and no long-term negative effects” as a result of their ketamine therapy.
  • Intranasal: Spravato, which is the brand name of the FDA-approved esketamine, is delivered via a nasal spray. Patients self-administer the spray while supervised by their doctor or another qualified professional. In a small study involving 11 patients with both major depressive disorder and PTSD, the number of participants who were moderately to severely suicidal dropped from seven to two after 30 days of twice-weekly intranasal ketamine therapy.
  • Injection: A January 2021 study in The American Journal of Psychiatry reported that participants who received six ketamine infusions over a two-week period demonstrated “significantly greater improvement” in severity of PTSD symptoms than did participants who received placebo over the same period. Among the participants whose symptoms improved, the beneficial effects lasted for a median of 27.5 days after the final session.

Does Ketamine Treat Other Types of Trauma?

Among the general public, PTSD is perhaps the most widely recognized trauma-related disorder. But it is by no means the only one. 

Trauma can raise a person’s risk for several mental and behavioral health concerns, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)
  • Acute stress disorder (ASD)
  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)
  • Substance use disorders (addictions)

Studies documenting ketamine’s effectiveness across a range of mental health concerns suggest that some individuals whose lives have been disrupted by trauma, but who don’t have PTSD, could also benefit from the medication. 

Of course, the decision to incorporate ketamine into treatment for any disorder should be based on a thorough assessment of the patient’s needs, as well as a discussion between the patient and their healthcare provider. This underscores the importance of finding a treatment provider who is committed to personalized care and patient empowerment.

Contact Conscious Health to Learn More About Our Medically Supervised Ketamine Therapy

If you would like to learn more about medically supervised ketamine for PTSD, depression, or another mental or behavioral health concern, Conscious Health is here to help.

Our outpatient mental health treatment center in Los Angeles, California, offers a dynamic array of innovative evidence-based therapies and services, including ketamine therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy, and electromagnetic brain pulse (EMBP) therapy. 

Our team of dedicated professionals will work closely with you to understand how you have been impacted by your mental health struggles, then we will develop a customized plan to address your unique needs. Every step of the way, we will encourage you to play an active role in all aspects of your care, so that you can take ownership of your continued recovery.

For additional information or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.

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