What is Ketamine’s Legal Status for Use as a Mental Health Treatment?
Ketamine as a promising new drug for mental health
Ketamine is a drug that was originally developed as an anesthetic, but it has recently gained popularity as a treatment for mental health disorders. Ketamine works by blocking certain receptors in the brain, which increases levels of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is believed to help repair damaged neurons and create new connections between brain cells, making ketamine potentially useful in treating certain mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) .
FDA approval vs. off-label use
While ketamine has been used off-label to treat depression and other mental health disorders for several years, in 2019, the FDA approved a nasal spray version of ketamine called esketamine for use in treating depression that has not responded to other treatments . This was a significant step forward in the use of ketamine for mental health treatment, as it provided a more official pathway for doctors to prescribe.
Ketamine’s status as a controlled substance
However, the legal status of ketamine for mental health treatment is somewhat complicated. Ketamine is a Schedule III controlled substance, meaning that it has a moderate to low potential for addiction (physiological or psychological dependence) and is considered to have medical value . The use of ketamine for mental health treatment is also considered off-label, which means that it is not specifically approved by the FDA for that use. Some states have passed laws restricting the use of ketamine in certain settings, such as in emergency departments or as a sedative in law enforcement situations (Li et al., 2020).
Despite these legal complexities, many doctors and mental health professionals are using ketamine to treat a variety of mental health disorders. Ketamine infusion therapy, in which a patient receives a dose of ketamine through an IV, has been shown to be effective in treating depression and other mental health disorders in some cases . However, it is important to note that ketamine is not a cure-all and may not work for everyone. Additionally, the long-term effects of ketamine use for mental health treatment are not well understood, and more research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits and risks.
Ketamine is legal but its use is restricted by regulations
In conclusion, ketamine is a potentially useful treatment for certain mental health disorders, but its legal status for this use is somewhat complicated. The FDA has approved a nasal spray version of ketamine for use in treating depression, but the use of ketamine for other mental health disorders is still considered off-label. Despite this legal ambiguity, many doctors and mental health professionals are using ketamine to treat a variety of mental health disorders with promising results. However, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of ketamine use for mental health treatment.
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- Zanos P, Moaddel R, Morris PJ, et al. NMDAR inhibition-independent antidepressant actions of ketamine metabolites. Nature. 2016;533(7604):481-486. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17998
- FDA approves new nasal spray medication for treatment-resistant depression; available only at a certified doctor’s office or clinic. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published 2019. Accessed March 13, 2023. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-nasal-spray-medication-treatment-resistant-depression-available-only-certified
- Drug Scheduling. DEA. Published 2018. Accessed March 13, 2023. https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
- Ionescu DF, Swee MB, Pavone KJ, et al. Rapid and Sustained Reductions in Current Suicidal Ideation Following Repeated Doses of Intravenous Ketamine. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2016;77(06):e719-e725. doi:https://doi.org/10.4088/jcp.15m10056
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