Why Ketamine Therapy is an Effective Anxiety Treatment

Medically reviewed by 
Kristin Arden, PMHNP-BC
Published on 
November 20, 2020
Updated on 

New research and science is emerging and demonstrating ketamine therapy to be an effective treatment protocol for managing and addressing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). 

Since there is a significant crossover between benefits of ketamine for both anxiety and depression, you may also want to read our “Why Ketamine is an Effective Treatment for Depression” piece for additional and related insights.

Ketamine Creates Cognitive & Physical Distance

Due to ketamine’s dual nature as both a dissociative and psychedelic medicine, one of its primary subjective or “felt” benefits is the sense of cognitive or bodily “distance” from the individual's thoughts, feelings, or collective experiences. 

Anxiety is often associated with a frequent or chronic sense of urgency, worry or fear in response to events or people in our environment or possible future. It can manifest physically in various ways such as tension or tightness in the body. These experiences can create unwanted automatic behaviors, mental loops, and patterns of behavior that are difficult to change, with the fear, urgency and physiological responses continuing to fuel them.

Ketamine’s felt effects can provide individuals distance from symptoms of anxiety. This includes physical distance from the emotions and sensations raised by anxiety, and cognitive distance from the mental loops and automatic triggers. Ketamine therapy provides some ‘breathing room’ for the individuals to regroup, gain new perspectives, and take the next steps necessary to address their anxiety in the long-term.

Ketamine’s therapeutic effects do not need to be extended experiences. The brief “short-circuiting” of the automatic loops and feelings introduced by dissociation can initiate a chain-reaction of positive behaviors which can begin to manage and treat the individual's anxiety.

It Helps Boost Your Outlook and Sense of Wellbeing

After a single dosing session, there is often a “baseline elevation” in mood, outlook, and general sense of wellbeing, which can last from a few days to a few weeks.

This elevation in mood creates a more favorable state for the individual to take action on rewriting their relationship with their triggers and generators of their anxiety, allowing them to build momentum in their lives and make long-term changes. 

This elevation in baseline mood, paired with the new perspectives or insights an individual gains from the experience itself, creates a highly conducive internal and external environment to address and manage the acute symptoms of their anxiety and take steps to reduce this in the long term.

Ketamine Facilitates New Perspective & Insights

Ketamine therapy is uniquely poised to be effective in the treatment of anxiety due to its effects promoting the realization or direct experience of novel perspectives and insights — new ways of thinking and approaching aspects of life. Where ketamine provides distance and perspective through its dissociative properties, the psychedelic effects can help facilitate new insights or realizations. This combination provides fertile ground to plant the seeds of change, growth, and healing.

As mentioned above, symptoms of anxiety can include unsettling fear or worry. Oftentimes, about things outside of our control or in the distant future. By facilitating new perspectives, people are able to identify what is in their control and what is taking control of their lives. They are often able to live more focused on the moment instead of worrying relentlessly about the future. Maybe, they have an experience with medicine where they think of anxiety producing things and have a different reaction to these thoughts, one that is free of fear or worry, or better able to relate to these emotions.

This often facilitates a shift from understanding cognitively how to separate from fear and worry to an  embodiment of this understanding which is a vital pivot for interacting with thoughts and environmentally triggered differently. This internalized change of associations (between thoughts, emotions, behaviors, environment) helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

By generating novel insights, the individual can gain a sense of trust in what the future will bring. This is essential, as anxiety is often future-facing in its disposition. In cultivating trust in themselves, and trust in the future, the symptoms and experience of anxiety can lessen.

It Helps Manage Anxiety Symptoms & Signals

Anxiety is relatively unique in the sense that it is both a condition itself, and a symptom of other conditions. It is a lived experience — a representation of life, experience and choice, and the knowledge gained from them — and also a signal that other aspects of life might need checking in on, or remain unprocessed. Individuals can have the physical feeling of anxiety in their body, but can also experience anxious thoughts about certain aspects of their lives: job security, success, meaning, and relationships, for example.

This two-part nature of anxiety makes it difficult to tackle. As everything can feel overwhelming and fear inducing, individuals often become stuck or feel paralyzed by the perception that they have to have the answers or that their safety must be protected, but they don’t know where to start.

A two-part condition requires a two-part solution to fully resolve. This is where ketamine, with its dichotomous nature as both a dissociative and psychedelic, addressing immediate symptoms and facilitating long-term behavioral change, is a powerful option and opportunity for these individuals.

The cognitive distance and baseline mood elevations allow the individual to manage the direct lived experience of anxiety —the feelings and emotions in their bodies. With this under control, the new perspectives and insights allow the individual to look deeply into what they are anxious about, whether that is their career, relationships, physical health, or meaning and purpose. 

Armed with new insights and next steps forward, they can act on the signals their body sends them in the form of anxiety.

This is where ketamine therapy shines, it is a comprehensive biological, psychological, and sociological intervention in the treatment of acute or chronic anxiety disorders. 

Ketamine Therapy is a Holistic Solution for Anxiety

The biopsychosocial model refers to the connection between the physical, psychological, and socio-environmental sides of our life. The efficacy and potential of ketamine and psychedelic therapy can be promising as it helps to address these different pillars.

Most available anxiety treatment options address at most one or two of these pillars. In taking a comprehensive approach to managing symptoms and facilitating long-term change, you have the greatest surface area for profound changes and long-lasting results.

Ketamine therapy, in the context of the treatment of anxiety and anxiety symptoms, is demonstrating itself to be a powerful medicine and therapeutic modality to address this because it works through and with this biopsychosocial model.


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

Need Help Gaining Control Over Your Anxiety?

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