Ketamine as an Antidepressant: Isn’t It Addictive?

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Ketamine, or Special K, became popular in the 60’s as a drug that produces hallucinatory effects.  Initially, the drug was used as an anesthetic.  It produces dissociative effects for the user.  The drug has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity at parties and raves.

Making the Drug

Ketamine is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist in the same class as hallucinatory drugs like PCP and DXM.  It gained popularity as a club drug because it is relatively short-acting in comparison to PCP.  The drug is manufactured by boiling the liquid version until only a powder remains.  The powder can be snorted, mixed with marijuana and smoked, or fashioned into pills.

History of Ketamine

Ketamine was initially marketed as a fast-acting general anesthetic.  For this reason, it was used as an anesthesia during war.  Perhaps because of the time and culture, Ketamine quickly began being used for “spiritual exploration” and a method for expanding the mind.  Timothy Leary, popular Harvard lecturer, became a proponent of PCP and similar drugs with his infamous quote, “Tune in, turn on and drop out.”

Nightclub Drug

On the street, the drug is sold as a party supplement.  Users feel detached from their environment and can experience “out of body” experiences.  In a club setting with lights flashing and music pulsing, users have an accelerated high.

New Uses

Ketamine has recently started being used in other prescribed capacities.  Researchers discovered an extension of opioid pain relief when ketamine is combined with the use of pain relievers.  It is also being used as an antidepressant for patients who receive no relief from more traditional therapies.

Antidepressant Therapy

Depression can be a debilitating illness for people, drastically reducing quality of life.  For patients who are difficult to treat, ketamine can be one option.  Studies were conducted using infused ketamine for patients with severe clinical depression and combination types of Bi-Polar disorder.  Initial indications were positive, but clinicians remained unclear whether patients reported relief based on antidepressant effects or the temporary euphoric effects.

Dependence Risks

For patients considering ketamine for depression, use caution. With ongoing use, ketamine users can develop a tolerance and dependence on the substance.  Its potent and immediate effects can drive a user to want more and more.  Of course, regular use and dependence can lead to ultimate addiction of any substance.

Dangers Associated with Ketamine

Because ketamine is closely associated with strong psychedelics like PCP and LSD, its potential for abuse is great.  There are many side effects with this drug, regardless of the reason for use.  Whether prescribed, or being used for a recreational high, users may experience:

  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Decrease in Motor Function
  • Amnesia
  • Impaired respirations
  • Tachycardia


At some point, abuse of drugs can teeter into dependence and addiction.  While this varies from individual to individual, it is clear that once the cycle of addiction begins, the party is over.  Many ketamine users abuse other types of drugs, as well.  Thus, for people who have teetered into addiction, it is important to seek help.

Addiction Treatment Options

Addicts’ brains seem to be wired differently.  For ketamine abusers, looking for an alternate experience is usually where it all begins.  Learning to live without varying the experience through chemicals requires treatment to manage physical, emotional and mental processing issues.  For those struggling with addiction, seeking help is necessary to find beauty in day to day reality instead of reaching for the ultimate disconnect through ketamine abuse.

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Kurdi, M., Theerth, K. & Deva, R. (2014). Ketamine:  Current applications in anesthesia, pain and critical care.  Anesthesia Essays and Research 8(3). 283-290. Retrieved from:

Niesters, M., Martini, C. & Dahan, A. (2014). Ketamine for chronic pain: Risks and benefits. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 77(2). 257-367. Retrieved from:

Rasmussen, K., Lineberry, T., Garlardy, C., Kung, S., et. al. (2016).  Ketamine:  stimulating antidepressant treatment. BJ Psych Open. 2 e5-e9. Retrieved from: