When I was hospitalized with anxiety and depression in my early 20s, one of the facility’s patients – a young mother – started talking to me while waiting for her ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, commonly known as shock therapy.
How can a psychedelic party drug be a useful tool in a psychiatrist’s pharmacological arsenal? Is it a joke? For many, absolutely not.
âECT? I stepped back thinking of the sparks flying through the air. “Do they always do that?”
âOh yeah,â she said. “It really helps. It’s the only thing that helps.”
With the addition of anesthesia and muscle relaxants, ECT can help people with treatment-resistant depression. Actor and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher, for her part, spoke positively about her shock treatments. However, due to the negative representations of ECT in popular culture, many people are still unaware of how useful therapy can be.
Ketamine therapy carries a similar stigma. When most people think of ketamine, they consider the party drug popular in the 90s and early 2000s. How can a psychedelic party drug be a useful tool in a psychiatrist’s pharmacological arsenal ? Is it a joke?
For many, absolutely not. When given under the care of a healthcare professional, it can be a life-saving medicine.
With treatment-resistant mental health disorders, especially depression, ketamine therapy may work when other therapies have failed. According to Dr. Robert C. Meisner, writing on the Harvard Health blog, “If a person reacts to ketamine, it can quickly reduce suicidality (potentially fatal thoughts and actions) and relieve other serious symptoms of depression.”
Hopefully the stigma against ketamine decreases as people become more aware of its possibilities and the rigorous scientific investigation into its potential. A new documentary released on Friday is expected to give her profile a significant boost. In âReborn,â NBA Champion Lamar Odom speaks candidly about how he thinks drugs saved his life.
Ketamine, however, is not a miracle drug. As with any medicine, there are downsides. Side effects include feelings of dissociation, mild hallucinations, increased blood pressure, respiratory depression and, more worryingly, the potential for abuse by people with a history of addiction.
âBecause of its addictive properties, I think it’s a last resort,â explained Sarah Gundle, a clinical psychologist who teaches at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and works with patients in ketamine therapy. “And also I think it should be used in conjunction with therapeutic support, not alone.”
In view of these serious warnings, it is essential that the drug is taken only in coordination with a doctor. Therapeutic ketamine is given in infused doses in a controlled environment under the care of a mental health professional, and clinics across the country are providing this service, some more responsibly than others. There is also a Food and Drug Administration approved nasal spray called Spravato (esketamine) that a doctor can prescribe.
Unfortunately, Odom’s documentary does not emphasize the importance of talk therapy in conjunction with medication. But he speaks candidly about the traumas of his life and how he hit rock bottom before starting ketamine therapy thanks to the intervention of Mike Zapolin – a somewhat wacky entrepreneur who considers himself an advocate for medicine. psychedelic and who is the director of the film.
On October 13, 2015, Odom was found unconscious at the Love Ranch brothel in Crystal, Nevada, after suffering from kidney failure and multiple heart attacks and strokes after a party weekend. He was placed on life support and used several types of drugs. Unexpectedly, Odom, who had struggled with drug addiction for years, recovered and continued to be a strong advocate for ketamine for helping change his life.
In the documentary, Odom is filmed receiving treatment at ketamine clinics, and care is taken to show how science-based the experiment is. EKGs are connected and doctors monitor patients. Clinics look like medical spas, not drug antennas or Burning Man tents.
At the end of the documentary, Odom says he wants to be âMalcolm X of mental healthâ – a vocal activist ready to inspire change. After all, the silence allows the stigma to grow – and having a famous basketball player talk about his mental health journey can help people, especially men, to reach out.
“For a lot of men, especially in the African American community, we are taught that talking about mental health or asking for help is a sign of weakness,” Odom told me in an interview before the documentary was released. . “We need to eliminate the stigma surrounding alternative treatments like ketamine and the shame of asking for help.”
Even though ketamine therapy seems unconventional and is only suitable for a small group of people, it allows people who have suffered for years without hope to finally find relief. Jessica Reidy, a writer working on a book about her experience with ketamine, explained that she started therapy after being overwhelmed by depression, anxiety and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, exacerbated by the death of his mother.
âI was so depressed and anxious that I was unable to move my body, sometimes for hours at a time,â Reidy said. Ketamine therapy gave her access to her grief and helped her overcome trauma intact. âKetamine has definitely helped me reach that place of acceptance so that I can take better care of myself.
Gundle believes the ketamine controversy stems from its history as a club drug, as well as its addictive potential. It is also hampered by the fact that scientists are not yet completely sure how it works. Most likely, ketamine works in several ways simultaneously and more research is being done.
But Gundle also considers the stigma of ketamine to be similar to the general stigma surrounding mental health: âThe biggest barrier for people who struggle to get treatment and help is shame. Treatment options, the better, as depression is a growing epidemic. We need to de-stigmatize all forms of mental health treatment in order to counter this epidemic. “