Doctors say home ketamine therapy is dangerous

Things have changed a lot from the days when getting a prescription filled meant handing over a piece of paper to your local pharmacist after a visit to the doctor. There are now virtual visits, and medical information is available everywhere, from symptom checkers on WebMD to drug ads on TikTok.

Although many of these new approaches prioritize convenience, they can be risky. In an article published by the National Library of Medicine, researchers found that some of the potential dangers related to telehealth include the risk of misdiagnosis, as well as privacy and security risks. Virtual prescribing of controlled substances has also raised concerns, particularly in combination with possibly misleading advertising that may lead to self-diagnosis. In early 2022, NBC News reported that Meta and TikTok had “pulled advertisements from a major startup in the field of mental health carebecause the ads “promoted negative body images and contained misleading health claims.”

Today, a particular treatment for depression is advertised on social networks. This is a type of therapy that patients self-administer at home. Read on to find out why doctors think it’s a dangerous idea.

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the primary cause of disability globally. “About 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression,” the site says. “Especially when it is recurrent and of moderate or severe intensity, depression can become a serious health problem.” The WHO reports that more than 700,000 people commit suicide each year, noting that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among people aged 15-29.

Distressed man looking at his phone.

With these statistics, it’s no wonder that treatments said to be effective in reducing depression are enthusiastically received, especially a type of therapy that uses a once notorious drug. But advise patients try this therapy at homenot supervised by a medical professional, is “borderline malpractice”, Roberto Estradadoctor, chief doctor from Lenox Hill Mindcare, said recently rolling stone.

“It’s a drug that can cause an acute confusional state,” Estrada warned. “At a minimum, the first treatment should be supervised by telepsychiatry. Giving someone medication and expecting them to be in an altered state and monitoring their own blood pressure and calling it psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, you don’t deliver what you’re promising.”

young woman looking at oblong white pill
Josep Suria/Shutterstock

For years, ketamine, also known as Special K, was known to be a illicit, illegal substance. “Ketamine fell into the category of ‘club drugs’ in the early 1990s,” explains Lantie Jorandbydoctor, Chief doctor at Lakeview Health’s addiction treatment center in Jacksonville, Florida.

However, the origins of ketamine date back much further, to 1962, when it was first used as an anesthetic, Jorandby explains. Now it has become known as an effective (and legal) way to treat treatment-resistant depression under the care of a medical professional.

“If a person reacts to ketamine, it can quickly reduce suicidal tendencies (life-threatening thoughts and actions) and provide relief to other severe symptoms of depression“, explains Harvard Health. “Ketamine can also be effective in treating depression associated with anxiety.” Ketamine therapy is usually administered by a doctor in a medical setting, but some new startups are trying to change this approach.

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Doctor administering an intravenous infusion to a patient.
FG/iStock Trade

By rolling stoneseveral telemedicine start-ups are prescribe ketamine remotely, for home use, in response to its newfound popularity as a treatment for depression. Their social media ads feature “attractive young people who rave about the impact of ketamine,” the reporter said. EJ Dickson reports.

“Ketamine is prescribed remotely by psychiatric nurse practitioners rather than doctors, following what some former patients tell me was a lax screening process,” Dickson writes. “And the sessions are not supervised by a trained medical professional, with patients instead being asked to take the ketamine under the observation of a family member or friend.”

Some of the risks of taking ketamine without the supervision of a medical professional include drug or alcohol addiction, hallucinations and psychosis, advises Jorandby. “People should be monitored by mental health providers when using ketamine,” she says. Additionally, “ketamine can affect the cardiovascular system, and more rarely, the respiratory system,” says Jorandby. “During administration, careful monitoring of pulse, blood pressure and oxygen saturation is necessary.” Additionally, “due to the dissociative effects of ketamine, behavioral management during administration is also required.”

If you are looking for relief from depression, always speak with your health care provider before trying any new treatment.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research and health agencies, but our content is not intended to replace professional advice. Regarding any medications you are taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your health care provider directly.

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