Ketamine was first produced in 1962 in the city of Detroit, USA, whilst its motor-industry production lines pounded, urban renewal reshaped the landscape, and the sound of Diana Ross and the Supremes singing ‘Who’s loving you’ rang out from Motown to the world. Its journey from trance-like sedative commonly used in veterinary and human medicine to party drug and now as part of Ketamine-assisted-psychotherapy (KAP) to cure patients with depression or PTSD is one that is finally helping pave the way to mental wellness.
Ketamine is a pain killer and anaesthetic, commonly used on children for its proven safety during emergency situations. Short-acting yet powerful, it does not depress breathing, lower blood pressure nor require patient-monitoring equipment. In a recent story in the Daily Mirror, the British diver John Volanthen saved Thai children from a flooded cave by sedating the young boys so as they would not panic whilst bringing them to the surface. The disassociative state that it induces can also allow for near-total amnesia. Put quite simply, brain activity can be quickly switched off. Information from the outside world is no longer processed as it would be. It is to be here open-eyed and yet gone.
Ketamine has only very recently been accepted as effective in the treatment of depression, with luxury clinics opening up across Europe offering as comfortable a stay as one would expect from an expensive rehab. Administered in very small doses, the sharp needle in your arm and the soft voice of therapy is there to guide you to a better place. The microdoses making certain that at no time do you lose consciousness as you slowly unravel into a dream-like state that envelops both body and mind – a cotton-candy dream where anxiety will find it very difficult to permeate your peaceful bubble. All of this, most likely, whilst dressed in expensively neutral cotton pyjamas. Portugal’s lenient legislation on prohibited substances has made it a wavy destination for those inclined, and alongside rest, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy allows the patient to be guided to confront long-term problems whilst processing the inner conflicts and unresolved issues from the trauma that they may carry in everyday life.
Slightly larger doses of ketamine will produce a more expanded state of consciousness, where the realms of psychedelia may be explored. Where time and space take on the shape that may render your own personal problems somewhat minuscule as you float along switched off and on and largely pain-free in a universe where everything is a slow explosion. As with psilocybin in large doses, which is currently the media’s treatment de jour for depression, the idea that we can only create long-term change by accessing parts of our consciousness stubbornly kept locked within us is now at least a dialogue that is being had.
The tabloid stories of faux-outrage with club kids ingesting a drug used to knock out horses seem to have receded. ‘Just say neigh’ to ketamine is a thing of the past. That this chemical can now be taken in a secure and sterile environment whilst backed by professional support allows society to process the use of psychoactive substances. Self-medication outside of nicotine or alcohol has been taboo for many generations and yet in the U.K. alone around 350,000 alcohol-related cases, annually fill hospital beds, and along with 80,000 deaths from smoking, it weighs heavily on an underfunded NHS system. Not that the long-term effects of ketamine misuse are so benign. Permanent kidney and bladder damage, as well as cognitive decline, are well-documented conditions. Any drug offering an escape through oblivion will easily lend itself to abuse. Yet, in small doses, the effect on the body is considered substantially less dangerous than drinking alcohol. In fact, ketamine is used by doctors when treating those with Maladaptive reward memories (MRMs) where patients have overconsumption disorders such as alcoholism or binge eating. Clinically administered ketamine is proven to have a positive impact on the relearning of healthy behaviour and is beneficial in combatting addiction or disorder in those suffering from this endless spiral.
Altering your reality can be as easy as going to the seaside, but changing the patterns that lead you to self-destruction, or from a skewed self-perception that damages relationships, can only be tackled with a positive frame of mind. If ketamine’s effect, described as instantly wiping the slate clean, can help banish negative thoughts that hamper one’s confidence and allow compassion for oneself and for others then perhaps it is set to be the wonder drug for a generation unusually concerned with being ‘well’. With lockdown has come much self-reflection and readjustment so it is of no surprise that stigmas and taboos are being rapidly done with. Rather than the common perception of the drug as a paralysing hypnotic to disappear into, the clinical trials show that it can markedly reduce the effects of depression almost instantaneously, and that can only help it to become a common medical treatment in these quick-fix times. It seems only natural to wish to be in a disassociative state in this period in history after all.