What are the Risks of Ketamine and Other Psychedelic Treatments?
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the use of psychedelics, such as ketamine, for mental health treatment. While these substances have shown promising results in the treatment of a variety of mental health conditions, they also come with potential risks that should not be ignored. We’ll break down those risks below.
Risks of ketamine treatment
Ketamine is a medication that has been found to have potential benefits for people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. According to a review of studies published by University of Exeter researchers evaluating ketamine’s value in mental health therapy1, ketamine may quickly alleviate depression and thoughts of suicide. Along with its immediate mood-regulating effects, there may be longer-term neurochemical and biological benefits from ketamine. Some of these benefits may include increasing the presence of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain, which can help create new, healthy neural connections.
However, ketamine use is not without hazards. According to Harvard Health Publishing2, some of the risks are:
- High blood pressure
- Perceptual disturbances (time appearing to speed up or slow down; colors, textures, and noises that seem especially stimulating; blurry vision).
Note that the latter symptoms are often considered beneficial if the treatment is structured as a psychedelic experience, but may be frightening for those who are not adequately prepared for such effects. When someone is suicidal or severely depressed possible benefits may outweigh possible risks.
In addition, there is also a risk of addiction associated with ketamine use. According to American Addiction Centers3, ketamine addiction is a serious problem that can have long-term health effects, including bladder pain and ulcers, kidney issues, chronic stomach pain, and memory deficits. An overdose of ketamine can cause unconsciousness, which is very dangerous if the user is not in a safe setting.
In conclusion while there are potential risks associated with ketamine use for mental health treatment, including addiction, its benefits often far outweigh these risks for patients in need of support, especially when administered in a therapeutic manner. It’s important to discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider before starting treatment.
What about other psychedelics?
Other psychedelics, such as psilocybin (found in certain species of mushrooms) and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), have also shown promise as treatments for mental health conditions. Like ketamine, these substances come with potential risks, including the risk of “bad trips” and side effects such as nausea and ongoing hallucinations. There are several risks associated with psychedelic use, including anxiety, panic, paranoia, delusions, terror, frightening hallucinations, extreme depression and rapid mood swings. Psychedelics can also cause dependence and can be dangerous if misused4. In some cases, psychedelic use may be riskier for individuals with a personal or family history of bipolar disorder or psychosis, such as schizophrenia5. However, studies have shown that they can be effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Read more in our post, Using psychedelics for mental health.
Understanding the risks vs. benefits
One of the most significant benefits of using psychedelics in mental health treatment is their ability to produce profound and long-lasting changes in mood and behavior. Unlike traditional antidepressant medications, which can take weeks or months to produce a noticeable effect, psychedelics can produce rapid improvements in symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after a single dose.
In conclusion, while there are potential risks associated with the use of psychedelics such as ketamine, the benefits of these substances for mental health treatment cannot be ignored. For individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions, these substances can offer rapid relief from symptoms that may not respond to other treatments. However, it is essential to work with a qualified medical professional to ensure safe and effective use of these substances.
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- University of Exeter. (n.d.). Ketamine’s value in mental health therapy evaluated. Retrieved from https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_655460_en.html
- Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Ketamine for major depression: New tool, new questions. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketamine-for-major-depression-new-tool-new-questions-2019052216673
- American Addiction Centers. (n.d.). Ketamine Abuse: Addiction, Effects, and Treatment. Retrieved from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/ketamine-abuse
- Medical News Today. (2022). Psychedelics: Risks, benefits, and more. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychedelics
- Portland Psychotherapy. (n.d.). Risks of Psychedelic Use. Retrieved from https://portlandpsychotherapy.com/risks-of-psychedelics/
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