Ketamine: From Taboo Party Drug To A Potential Aid In Fighting Depression

An epidemic-driven easing of prescription rules led to a surge in telemedicine offerings for ketamine.


Americans are paying for ketamine to be shipped to their homes as part of a psychedelic medicine revolution. It is being called a breakthrough and a gamble.

Pandemic-induced relaxation of prescription rules fueled a spike in telemedicine offerings. The ketamine anesthetic was once a taboo cocktail drug but is now a hot tool to combat depression.

But, the long-term, large scale studies of ketamine’s medical effects are still limited. Experts worry that an unregulated internet boom could lead to regulatory crackdowns or mishaps.

Boris Heifets is an assistant professor at Stanford University of Anesthesiology. He said, “This needs to be rolled out slowly.” “The risk is we are scaling the fix and not the solution to mental health, which is much more integrated.”

Since the 1970s, Ketamine has been in America as an anesthetic known as a “dissociative”, due to its hallucinogenic effects. It is a popular drug that has become a staple of rave culture.

The US government allows doctors to prescribe psychedelics. However, some other drugs that are being rediscovered for their mental health uses such as LSD and MDMA (also known as ecstasy), are considered illegal for medical use and high-risk for abuse.

This is why there has been an increase in the number of clinics that offer intravenous ketamine treatment for chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and other conditions in recent years. However, regulations and practices differ across American states.

Ketamine ‘babysitter’

The pandemic followed, and the US authorities allowed doctors to remotely prescribe drugs such as ketamine without having to visit patients in person.

A growing number companies, some of which already do in-clinic treatments for patients, offer online services to assess clients and send drugs home to those who are approved.

Nue Life was founded about a year ago. Juan Pablo Cappello, the CEO of Nue Life, stated that it has so far served more than 3,000 ketamine clients.

He said to AFP, “If you drill down on these potentials for abuse, you realize of course that they exist. But we’re creating a standard in care to make them quite unlikely.”

He noted that clients are required to have an adult “babysitter”, who will watch them for approximately 90 minutes. He also pointed out that people looking for ketamine on the streets could find it cheaper elsewhere.

Cappello said that the $1250 service includes six ketamine experiences and clients are encouraged, but not required, to use therapy in conjunction with it.

He said that the at-home telemedicine model is “safer and more effective for patients” and allows more patients to “take advantage of these therapies.”

Heifets noted that making ketamine available is a risk. This includes the possibility that authorities might tighten access in the event of an at-home tragedy.

‘Change your life’

The US government approved in 2019 a ketamine type for adults with treatment-resistant depressive disorder. However, there were strict rules such as requiring that patients be closely monitored for at least two hours following their last dose.

Heifets pointed out that Americans have “a hair trigger to problem-solving through legal proceedings.”

He was part a team that evaluated the real-world efficacy of intravenous Ketamine Therapy – which can include higher doses than the at home services. It found that the majority of patients had improved. However, eight percent of those who received treatment reported depressive symptoms getting worse.

He stated, “We have very very little evidence that ketamine is effective for depression at any scale.”

However, ketamine can be a very useful tool for people like Philip Markle, a 36-year-old New Yorker who received treatment at home with Mindbloom.

The comedian and performer has been fighting depression for years. He tried many psychedelics, including LSD and medication. But he found something special in ketamine.

Ketamine provided a more lasting sense of clarity than other psychedelics and helped him to accept himself.

“It felt almost like if there was a drug that could be sent by mail and could alter your life, it would be this one,” he said to AFP.

(This story is not edited by NDTV staff.

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