Special K, Kit Kat, Super K, you've probably heard of the drug ketamine, commonly used as an anesthetic since 1962 and as a horse tranquilizer, but what you might not know is that ketamine has a 75% of successfully treating severe depression.
In February of 2020 I underwent a serious surgery and ended up with painful complications that made me feel trapped in my body desperate for help. Due to the pandemic, I was unable to get medical treatment and ended up being in excruciating pain for months. This unfortunately left me with PTSD and depression. I also started having panic attacks without having a clue what a panic attack even was. All I knew was that suddenly it would get harder to breathe, my stomach would be tight in knots, and would feel an impending sense of doom. My therapist at the time shut down my concerns and encouraged "meditation, healthy eating, exercise and valerian root." I'm sorry, but how is a root supposed to treat the mental and physical pain I was in? After trying a couple antidepressants, I realized I was feeling worse mentally rather than better and that maybe pills weren't the answer. I continued my search for a successful treatment for my depression and discovered the wonderful drug of ketamine.
After finding a ketamine clinic on the mainland, I bought a ticket and was on my way to Texas from Hawai'i within 72 hours to start a series of 6 intravenous ketamine infusions that would each last about 2 hours spaced out over 2 weeks. Their website explained the chance of hallucinations, visions, and other sensory side effects during the infusions, but also touted their high success rate at 75%, compared to a 40% success rate with antidepressants that take months to work, if at all. I spent hours reading success stories about the life-changing effects ketamine has on so many people around the world. For the first time in a long time, I truly had hope.
The ketamine clinic was always very comfortable and I felt safe at all times. I was given a pillow and blankets and was able to get comfortable in a reclining chair while the ketamine was administered via an IV. My heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels were constantly monitored by an anesthesiologist. The first infusion was definitely a little scary, but eventually I learned to just let go and see where the ketamine took me while I relaxed and listened to beautiful music.
First, I would feel my fingers and toes go numb, then I'd notice lights and colors becoming more intense, finally music and sound would become very powerful. When I closed my eyes I could feel myself floating in mid-air while powerful visions surrounded me. I saw galaxies, angels, even myself in a movie, and my own personal idea of Heaven. I remember telling my anesthesiologist while completely dissociated that "everything and everyone in the universe was energy" and that I could choose the energy that surrounded me. Although it sounds pleasant, the feeling of being completely separated from your body can be a little terrifying. I just had to learn how to control that fear and enjoy the insights ketamine was giving me. I also had several visions of myself during events that caused PTSD and was able to process the events better since I felt more distance from myself and my emotions. Ketamine was like a safe space to process anything and everything. I even felt an improvement in my symptoms following my first ketamine infusion! After six, the change I saw in myself was incredible. I have energy again to go to the beach and have fun, but more importantly I feel a sense of calm in my mind I haven't had for a while.
Scientifically speaking, ketamine works by blocking the NMDA receptors in the brain which causes the brain to produce more glutamate. This increases the brain's neuroplasticity: the brain's ability to form new neural pathways and new connections, which helps tremendously with treating depression. It's also thought that blocking the NMDA receptors can produce a numbing effect on negative emotions like sadness and fear. For my research, I read articles from Yale, Harvard, the Mayo Clinic, and Double-Blind studies performed in the US and Europe since I wanted to have reliable information.