Myth 1: Ketamine is not safe. 

Is Ketamine-Assisted Therapy Safe?

Ketamine is safe and effective; it was first FDA approved in 1970 and has been used medically for over 50 years, including in pediatrics. It is most often used as an anesthetic for emergency pain relief and minor surgeries. Ketamine is considered a very safe medicine when administered under medical supervision to people who have been medically cleared, are adequately monitored, and follow basic before and aftercare instructions. At The Catalyst Center, clients considering ketamine assisted psychotherapy in Denver, CO, start by meeting with our board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. Prospective ketamine assisted psychotherapy clients complete a full medical evaluation to ensure ketamine is a safe and effective option and are medically monitored throughout the process. 

Taking ketamine or any drug recreationally is risky; you have not been medically screened for potential contraindications or medication reactions, have no way to verify the purity and quality of the substance you are taking, and are not in a well-controlled setting. It’s important to understand the difference.

Some researchers have raised concerns about repeated ketamine infusions. The concern is that this could lead to addiction or cognitive impairment. When ketamine therapy is closely monitored and limited, these risks decrease. The benefits of ketamine therapy for severe depression and other mental health conditions far outweigh any potential downsides for many people. That said, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits with your provider prior to beginning ketamine assisted therapy.

Abuse of ketamine has the potential to cause damage to the bladder. Research has also linked heavy ketamine use to liver damage. This kind of organ damage has only been seen in the case of heavy use and addiction. The Catalyst Center’s ketamine therapy program in Denver, CO, is controlled. Sessions are infrequent and limited to a handful of times. Therefore, the risk of physical harm is much lower.

It has been estimated that the median lethal dose of ketamine for humans is 600 mg/kg or 4.2 g for a 70 kg person. This ketamine dosage far exceeds the dosages used in ketamine assisted therapy which typically range between 0.25mg/kg to 1 mg/kg. You would need to take approximately 600 times the highest dose we use to risk a fatal reaction from ketamine.

* The lethal dose (LD50) is the dosage of a drug that results in the death of 50 percent of animals in a laboratory condition.

Myth 2: Ketamine is a horse tranquilizer. 

Is Ketamine a horse tranquilizer?

This statement is true but incomplete. Ketamine is used in both humans and animals for anesthesia. This is more common than you might imagine; thyroid medication, antihistamines, indigestion medicine, certain supplements, many antibiotics, and even Prozac are commonly used by both humans and some animals. Due to its excellent safety profile, ketamine is widely used in both veterinary and human medicine. 

As an anesthetic, ketamine has a fast onset and short duration of action with few side effects when administered appropriately. In very large doses, ketamine has, in fact, been used as a horse tranquilizer due to its excellent safety profile. For decades, it has aided in veterinary and human medicine, helping treat chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), and neuropathic pain caused by spinal cord injury or diabetes. More recent research has shown ketamine to have powerful antidepressant properties as well. 

Myth 3: Ketamine makes you psychotic.

Does ketamine make you psychotic?

Ketamine can elicit a non-ordinary state of consciousness, which is different from psychosis. Ketamine is not recommended for people with a prior history of or significant risk factors for a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia; not enough research has been done to establish its safety with this vulnerable population. 

Ketamine can produce a dream-like state where the body may experience unfamiliar sensations, some feel like they are floating, and some people experience alterations in their perceptions of time and space. After the medicine has cleared your system, you return to reality with all your senses intact. 

Myth 4: Only people with treatment-resistant depression can benefit from ketamine-assisted therapy.

Who can benefit from ketamine-assisted therapy?

Ketamine assisted psychotherapy is effective for a wide variety of concerns. The early research into its mental health applications was largely completed with people with “treatment-resistant depression,” meaning they met the criteria for major depressive disorder and had not responded to several trials of antidepressants. This has led to the myth that ketamine assisted therapy is only for people with treatment-resistant depression. Ongoing research is evaluating the benefits of ketamine therapy for many mental health conditions. Ketamine assisted therapy seems best suited to help people with conditions characterized but stuck or ruminative thinking patterns that have resisted change by typical methods (such as traditional talk therapy and medication). 

At The Catalyst Center, we use ketamine therapy to work with people to address many issues. These include:

  • Trauma 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Eating disorders
  • Chronic worry or fear
  • Existential Anxiety / Fear of Death

Myth 5: Ketamine is only a recreational drug. 

Is Ketamine just a party drug?

Ketamine is a well-researched medicine with an excellent safety profile. It has been in continuous medical use for over 50 years. It was approved as an anesthetic by the FDA in 1970, and over the last several years, many academic and medical research organizations have documented the effectiveness of ketamine in the treatment of various mental health disorders.

Many people have heard of ketamine as a party drug. Commonly known as “Special K” or “Vitamin K,” the experience of ketamine is often referred to as a “K-hole.” Recreational doses of ketamine can be up to 10 times higher than a typical dosage used to help treat mental health conditions such as depression. This type of use is not legal, carries risks, and is not recommended as a replacement for mental health treatment. Ketamine is considered a Schedule III drug by the federal government and is regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The use of ketamine under the supervision of a medical professional is medically appropriate and supported by research. In the last several years of research, ketamine has shown to provide rapid relief for those with treatment-resistant depression and suicidal thoughts. Ketamine therapy in Denver, CO, at The Catalyst Center is a safe and supportive option for mental health treatment.

Myth 6: Ketamine is highly addictive.

Is Ketamine addictive?

Ketamine does not cause physiological dependence meaning it does not elicit physical withdrawal symptoms.  However, some people like how it makes them feel and may desire to continue using it – this is known as psychological dependence.  When abused, often at doses up to ten times higher than the dose used in mental health treatment, it raises the risk of becoming psychologically addictive. In supervised medical settings such as The Catalyst Center ketamine assisted therapy program in Denver, CO, there have been no reported cases of ketamine addiction. 

Will ketamine assisted therapy lead to psychological addiction? This outcome is unlikely for the following reasons:

Ketamine addiction follows frequent use. Ketamine assisted therapy sessions, rather, take place only a handful of times, with gaps in between. This significantly lowers the risk of becoming addicted to the compound.

The Catalyst Center ketamine assisted therapy providers take substance abuse information into account in determining if ketamine assisted therapy is an appropriate treatment option. People who are at a high risk of addiction may not be suitable for ketamine assisted therapy. It is important to discuss potential risk factors such as a history of addiction with your provider prior to starting ketamine assisted therapy.

Positive effects continue after the dissociative and psychoactive effects wear off. This makes it less likely that you will feel the need to seek out the drug on your own.

Ketamine is, relatively speaking, not a highly addictive drug. Research shows that caffeine has a greater dependence potential. If used in a controlled setting under the guidance of trained medical professionals, the risk of addiction is quite low.

Compare ketamine’s low addiction potential to other known substances. As you can see, ketamine is less addictive than your morning cup of coffee. (Gable, 2006)

Myth 6: Ketamine therapy is illegal.

Is ketamine therapy illegal?

When ketamine is used to treat depression or pain, it is considered “off-label” use. Contrary to what you may think, this does not mean it is either illegal or unsafe. When medications are approved by the FDA for human use, they are approved for a specific purpose. Oftentimes, it is discovered later that it is also useful for other purposes that were not included on the original “label.” Literally, hundreds of drugs we prescribe today are being used for purposes other than what they were originally intended. In fact, one in five prescriptions today are written off-label. Recently, a form of ketamine called “esketamine” (which comprises 50% of regular generic ketamine) was approved by the FDA for the use of depression.  This was after almost 20 years of compelling research that demonstrated the efficacy and safety of ketamine for these purposes.

Myth 7: After ketamine assisted therapy, I won’t need antidepressants or to go to therapy anymore.

Is ketamine a permanent cure for depression?

A common myth is that ketamine assisted therapy is a mental health panacea. Ketamine assisted therapy is a highly promising treatment for depression based on existing evidence. However, media coverage and hype have created the impression that ketamine is a miracle cure. This is misguided for several reasons:

The antidepressant effects of ketamine are rapid and substantial but also short-lived. They last about 1–2 weeks after a ketamine session. This means that depression will return for many people some weeks after their most recent ketamine treatment. This underscores the importance of making the most of the integration sessions to make sense of your ketamine experiences and implement lasting changes in your life that will help you maintain your mental wellness. 

Booster sessions of ketamine assisted therapy are sometimes necessary for some people, even after they have experienced remission from the symptoms that brought them in.

Many people undergo ketamine treatment alongside the use of an antidepressant and ongoing therapy.

Ketamine assisted therapy can reduce the severity of psychiatric symptoms without necessarily alleviating them entirely. Long-term changes to your relationships, your nutrition, your sleep, and your habits are the key to lasting mental wellbeing. Ketamine can open the door to these changes, but you must walk through it and do the work. 

Ketamine assisted therapy may not work for everyone. Approximately 70% of research subjects with treatment-resistant depression were helped by ketamine, which means that 30% of them did not improve. 

Myth 8: Ketamine assisted therapy is fun.

Is ketamine assisted therapy fun?

Ketamine Is Not Necessarily Fun

Ketamine assisted therapy involves taking a moderate to a high dose of ketamine in a controlled environment while working with a trained therapist to make changes to your life and integrate the insights that may arise during your ketamine sessions. Taking ketamine can produce intense effects like revisiting events from your past, interacting with deceased loved ones, having an out-of-body experience, and experiencing ego death, and may elicit mystical experiences. These experiences are not necessarily fun. In fact, they can be emotionally challenging and sometimes frightening. Therefore, we feel it is vital to have adequate therapeutic support before, during, and after your ketamine sessions. 

“What happens in depression is there’s a shriveling of these branches and these leaves, and it looks like a tree in winter. And a drug like ketamine does make the tree look like one back in spring.”

— Dr. Carlos Zarate, MD – Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at NIMH

Link to FDA approval of Esketamine: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-nasal-spray-medication-treatment-resistant-depression-available-only-certified