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10 Common Ketamine Myths and Misunderstandings

It doesn’t take long browsing social media or the internet to come across a bold claim about ketamine or ketamine treatment. 

For every well-researched, evidence-based article, there seem to be several pieces promoting common myths or misunderstandings about ketamine and the ketamine experience.

To help make sure we’re all on the same page, we’ve provided some quick commentary to address some of ketamine’s most common myths and misunderstandings: 

1. “It's a horse-tranquilizer…”

Ketamine is often referred to, or dismissed as a “horse tranquilizer.” 

While this is factually correct, ketamine was not discovered or developed for this purpose, nor is it the most common use case for ketamine. 

Ketamine’s primary uses are as a medical anesthetic, and as an off-label prescription medication for a variety of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, substance use, and PTSD.

Ketamine is used in some veterinary practices due to its stellar safety record. Other anesthetics may put larger animals, such as horses, at risk.

2. “It’s a party/recreational drug…”

Ketamine does have a reputation for illicit use in non-clinical settings, such as music festivals, raves, or nightclubs. It’s often referred to by its recreational or street names: “K,” “Kitty,” or “Special K.”

It’s factually correct that ketamine is used as a recreational drug. However, its use without clinical oversight is illegal, and potentially dangerous. 

If you apply the “which came first?” dilemma, ketamine has been FDA-approved as an anesthetic medicine since 1970, far before its rise as a recreational drug.

Ketamine’s recreational use by no means diminishes the power and potential of ketamine as a viable mental health treatment. Due to its safety record, ketamine is on WHO’s List of Essential Medicines, and continues to be heavily researched for further medical application.

3. “You’ll fall in a k-hole…”

A “k-hole” is a powerful dissociative experience normally brought on by excessive consumption of ketamine in a recreational context. It can be both transformational and scarring.

In clinical settings, it’s highly unlikely that an individual would have a “k-hole” experience while working with ketamine therapy. 

When working with trained clinical care teams, proper set and setting, subanesthetic doses taken as directed, and adequate support and preparation all contribute to ensuring safe and effective treatments.

4. “Ketamine isn’t psychedelic…”

Another myth that is a common detractor is that ketamine isn’t psychedelic. 

Ketamine does not work on the 5HT2A serotonergic receptors like “classical psychedelics,” e.g psilocybin and LSD. Classifying a psychedelic based on this criteria is unnecessarily restrictive, especially as there is no formal body that governs what is and isn’t a psychedelic.

When categorized based on the phenomenological experience of ketamine, ketamine is most certainly a psychedelic. It exhibits psychedelic properties, and reliably induces a psychedelic experience in individuals who go through ketamine treatment.

The exact experience will likely vary based on: the individual, environmental circumstances, dosage, and other factors that contribute to the outcome of a medicinal setting. 

5. “Ketamine is addictive…”

Some claim that ketamine is addictive, and thus you should avoid considering ketamine treatment. 

This signals a misunderstanding about the neurobiology of ketamine, or the specifics of ketamine treatment. 

The claim that ketamine is addictive is technically correct. Addiction is one of the known side effects of long-term recreational use of ketamine

However, the claim often excludes the fact that addiction surfaces primarily in recreational contexts, and as a side-effect of long-term excessive use or abuse. This is another reason why it’s important to work with a trained clinical care team for your ketamine therapy.

By adhering to the therapeutic protocol as administered by a licensed clinician, individuals drastically reduce —if not entirely eliminate— the potential of becoming biologically or psychologically addicted to ketamine.

6. “Ketamine will fix everything…”

On the opposite end of the ketamine myth spectrum is the narrative that ketamine is a panacea, or “magic pill,” which fixes all of your problems in a single dosing session. 

As much as researchers, and those challenged with mental health issues wish it were true, this is also a myth.

While psychedelic medicine shows promise in helping individuals through a number of conditions, you must commit to preparation, integration, and sometimes intense emotional processing to achieve the outcomes you desire. In psychedelic therapy terms, this is called “doing the work.”

Ketamine and other psychedelic medicines can help individuals make positive, enduring changes in their lives. But they are not magic pills.

7. “Ketamine is too new, experimental, or untested…”

Another misunderstanding is that ketamine, much like other psychedelic medicines, is new, untested, unproven, or illegal. These are myths.

Ketamine has more than 50 years of legal status and scientific research supporting its clinical application. In contrast, other psychedelic medicines are currently moving through clinical trials for approval, and have yet to be granted legal, prescribable status outside of research settings. 

There is good evidence demonstrating ketamine treatments efficacy for a variety of mental health conditions. Ketamine treatment is established, tested, well-proven, and legal when prescribed under the guidance of licensed clinicians. 

8. “It’s too expensive…”

The cost of ketamine therapy is a common topic in online discussions, and for those seeking treatment. 

While it’s true private clinics can charge more than $1000 dollars per session, certainly not a small price for anyone, it’s not the only way to begin working with ketamine.

This was one of the original seeds of Mindbloom’s mission: making ketamine therapy approachable, accessible, and affordable to more people. 

Mindbloom treatment reduces the cost of ketamine treatment by nearly 60% when compared to in-person clinics. While in-person treatment may be appropriate for some individuals, it’s not your only option when exploring ketamine therapy. 

9. “You can’t do ketamine therapy while on medications/ssris…”

In psychedelic therapy circles, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other common anti-depression medications are known to be contraindicated. This means it’s strongly advised to abstain from psychedelics if you are currently taking antidepressants. 

The interaction between two compounds that work on the same neurochemical pathways —in this case, serotonergic or dopaminergic pathways— can cause adverse reactions, and potentially lead to death.

This is where ketamine has an advantage. It’s a psychedelic medicine that works on different pathways in the brain: NMDA receptors via the glutamate system.

As such, ketamine rarely has negative interactive potential when combined with SSRIs. Individuals currently taking anti-depressant medication are able to use ketamine treatment at the same time, provided a clinician reviews their health history and approves the interaction.

So while SSRIs are typically contraindicated for use with classical psychedelics, this is not a concern with ketamine.

Read more on ketamine’s neuroscience

10. “Ketamine is only helpful for others…”

The final pervasive myth about ketamine is that it only works for “others.” 

This comes from online stories that ketamine only works for those with a certain condition, such treatment-resistant depression, or population, such as veterans challenged with PTSD. 

It’s important not to dismiss your candidacy, and thus your healing, by telling yourself this myth. People from a variety of health histories, backgrounds, and socio-economic statuses work with ketamine therapy.

If you’d like to see if ketamine treatment is right for you, take our brief candidate assessment.

Where to Find Credible Ketamine Information

If you’re not experienced with the neurobiology or the phenomenology of ketamine, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction when researching ketamine treatment online. Fortunately, there are several sources of credible ketamine information out there. 

The most direct source will be peer-reviewed scientific/clinical studies, which we proudly share on our website. 

If you don’t want to read through the source material, we have an archive of information on our blog covering everything from ketamine’s legality to out-of-body experiences. 

If you’d like to see if ketamine treatment is right for you, begin your journey here.

Interested in Ketamine's Mental Health Benefits?

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Disclaimer

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.

Important FDA Safety Information

Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.

Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).

Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:

  • Allergic to ketamine
  • Symptoms of psychosis or mania
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • CHF or other serious heart problem
  • Severe breathing problem
  • History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
  • History of hyperthyroidism
  • Other serious medical illness
  • Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant

Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.

While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.

  • In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
  • Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
  • Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom® clinician before proceeding with treatment.
  • The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.

To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:

  • Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
  • Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
  • Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
  • Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
  • Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
  • Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety

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10 Common Ketamine Myths and Misunderstandings