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Is ketamine therapy the future of mental health treatment?

On Thursday, March 2 at 19:30 GMT:
Ketamine is an increasingly popular drug that is often regarded as a life saver for those who suffer from depression and other chronic treatment resistant mood disorder.

Ketamine is an anesthetic that has been used for decades in operating rooms around the world. As a therapeutic agent, it offers patients what is described as one “mental timeout” from troubling thought and behavior patterns. This delay is thought to give the brain a chance to establish new and more positive pathways while alleviating patient suffering.

While the drug has not received widespread approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the express treatment of mood disorders, doctors are allowed to prescribe the drug “off label” at their discretion. In 2019, esketamine – a version of ketamine – was approved in nasal spray form for the treatment of major depression and suicidal ideation.

Psychiatrists and researchers at Yale University have called it a “wonder drug” and “game changer,” noting that in one study, 70% of patients who received the nasal spray were otherwise unresponsive to treatment experience improvement.

The flexibility in access has resulted in a bang of ketamine clinics, while President Trump-era legislation that allowed online prescriptions to flourish as a way for the country to grapple with the pandemic-related mental health crisis has resulted in the proliferation of use. The number of prescriptions prescribed in the US will double between 2016 and 2021. Once known culturally in the US as a party drug, a wave of online popularity of #ketaminetherapy on the social media platform TikTok reflects the extent to which ketamine is undergoing mainstream cultural transformation.

As interest grows, some critics sound the alarm about the lack of clinical supervision and the risk of abuse. The drug remains underexposed and the side effects are only beginning to become apparent. Meanwhile, a recent proposal from US President Joseph Biden to review availability of prescription drugs online could lead to stricter access controls.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak to a panel of experts at the forefront of ketamine treatment to discuss the promises, realities and unknowns of this increasingly popular therapeutic.

In this episode of The Stream we speak with:
Celia Morgan @profceliamorgan
Professor of Psychopharmacology, University of Exeter

Fortesa Latifi @FortesaLatifi

Jay Godfrey @nushamawellness
CEO, Nushama