Ketamine continues to be a drug short on definitive answers despite the growing research. However, since its discovery in 1962, researchers have been able to cull together findings from research and anecdotal results. Much of those findings would reveal that its first use as anesthesia was just the iceberg’s tip.
Much more is left to be answered about ketamine. What is abundantly clear is that ketamine has the potential to change lives in several ways. That said, many in the world want to make sure it remains inaccessible.
Ketamine Piques to Interest of Physicians and the Public
The immense capabilities of ketamine have piqued the interest of various communities over the decades. The medical field has been enamored with the drug since its discovery. Meanwhile, the last three or four decades have seen ketamine become an illicit club drug.
While some continue to use ketamine, or Special K, for recreational purposes, most proponents for its use view ketamine as a therapeutic option. Like cannabis, ketamine has ample amounts of self-reports touting its success. Additionally, the drug has a wealth of lab studies over the past half-century. This wealth of information is achieved in the lab, sometimes in the United States. This type of outcome is not possible for drugs like cannabis that remain a Schedule I drug. Unlike cannabis, ketamine is a Schedule III substance in the U.S.
The scheduling of ketamine and an increased interest as of late fueled an uptick of patient treatments across the country in recent years. Dr. Leonardo Vando, medical director for guided psychedelics treatment platform Mindbloom, said the newest interest is fueled by the abundance of lab findings and ketamine’s 1970 FDA approval, the only for psychedelics.
“Like other psychedelics, ketamine has an extensive presence in the research literature dating back decades,” Vando told High Times. “Ketamine is spearheading the resurgence of these medicines because of its powerful effects as an antidepressant and its superb safety profile.”
Nations worldwide, including the U.S., have embraced ketamine treatments for its treatment potential and various effects on the market.
Dr. Vando added, “Not only have we been able to bring this amazingly effective treatment into our psychiatric arsenal, but we have managed to do it with low cost, generic ketamine instead of an expensive new pharmaceutical drug.”
Lab Studies Further Fuel Ketamine Interest
Ketamine studies continue to pour in, offering up new insights and market buzz.
A June 2020 study was the latest in the field to generate such interest in the public forum. These findings come from a University of Cambridge study of ketamine-sedated sheep with hopes of understanding the drug’s effect of patients with Huntington’s disease. The study identified brain phenomena that may provide answers on how the drug produces out-of-body-like experiences and oblivion states in patients.
“It’s likely that the brain oscillations caused by the drug may prevent information from the outside world being processed normally,” explained Lead Researcher Jenny Morton, who concluded that ketamine could “temporarily switch off the brain.”
Jackee Stang, founder and president of psychedelic wellness media venture Delic Corp, said that additional credible lab studies are the most efficient way of understanding ketamine and its treatments.
“Perhaps more importantly, however, is that the more we can provide concrete evidence of efficacy through studies and research, the safer a mainstream audience will feel about considering new and progressive forms of treatment,” added Stang.
The psychedelics media leader numerous studies are underway and could warrant their own discussion in time. While valuable to advancing the space, Stang pointed towards treatment centers in the U.S. and Canada as a sign of the progress already made. “We expect more to come over the coming years,” Stang added.
More so, she highlighted MAPS’ ongoing Phase III clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, predicting that it could lead to further psychedelics reform in America. Stang forecasted that “We could see MDMA rescheduled very soon,” adding that “This will only pave the path for further psychedelic de-stigmatization and medicalization.”
Barriers Remain to Ketamine Access
Promising research provides promise that ketamine treatments will see additional reform around the world. That said, barriers remain in both the United States and abroad.
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) presented a ketamine fact file detailing the drug’s benefits and risk factors. Concerns noted include the possibility of illicit use, dependence and harm. While stating its worries, the WHO report noted that fatal intoxication is minimal, with only 12 recorded deaths between 1987 and 2000—with only three deaths solely caused by ketamine.
Still, several nations have taken legislative action to thwart public use. China has been the most active and vocal on the world stage. The country has sought a tighter restriction on the drug for years, with it being the Chinese population’s drug of choice for several years due to its reported affordability.
Despite its lobbying, influential global groups, like the WHO, have repeatedly rebuffed any efforts to prohibit ketamine access. Between 2006 and 2015, the group made four public recommendations that ketamine not be placed on any restriction lists, instead keeping it on the WHO’s list of essential medicines.
The organization’s stance is not linked to the mentally therapeutic potential of ketamine. Instead, the organization cites the low risk of public health threat coupled with the essential service ketamine provides in many in the hospitals of low-revenue and developing nations as anesthesia.
“The Committee concluded that ketamine abuse does not pose a global public health threat, while controlling it could limit access to the only anesthetic and pain killer available in large areas of the developing world,” said a 2015 WHO statement.
Meanwhile, a June 2020 report from the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs reported that ketamine joined seven other drugs to experience a price hike while under an FDA-designated shortage.
Much like cannabis, a lack of definitive lab data is likely holding up the progress on ketamine legislation. That said, current data and decades of use leave many nations and influential groups to understand that ketamine is far from a club drug. For numerous nations and patients, it is essential in getting through surgery as well as the pains of mental health.