Using one substance to stop the dependency of another might sound slightly pointless, but there is actually more sense to it than you may think. After years of ignoring recreational drugs, the medical establishment around the world are beginning to accept that certain mind-altering substances may actually have more medicinal benefits than first realized.
Ketamine is a popular party drug, as well as being used as a short-acting general anesthetic, but in recent times its further powers seem to have been noticed. Esketamine nasal spray has recently been made legal around the world as a powerful antidepressant, and now research is being done by a biotech company into the effects of ketamine on alcoholism. Awakn Life Sciences Corporation truly believes that this substance can reset addictive behaviors.
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Sometimes people forget that almost all synthetic drugs (substances made in a lab and not naturally) will have been created for medical purposes. Then, overtime, these drugs will have landed in the hands of the public and eventually used for recreational purposes. This is essentially the case with all popular party drugs. Ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, Ketamine - all of these substances are used - or were once used - in the medical world. However, as is the pattern with drugs, once people begin taking power of their use, and taking them without medical supervision or advice, governments will ban them.
Cocaine is originally used as a general anesthetic - to numb the nose, mouth or throat - during operations. MDMA was originally synthesized to help bleeding in 1912, and was then noted for its psychoactive properties as time went on. LSD was also created completely by accident by a Swiss scientist in the 1930s, whilst he was working with a chemical found in ergot, a fungus that grows naturally on rye and other grains. As you can see, the funding and abilities to make synthetic drugs lie in the medical establishment. That is the origin of these substances. The Pharmaceutical Journal writes:
“Each year sees a couple of dozen new drugs licensed for use, but in their wake there will be tens of thousands of candidate drugs that fell by the wayside. The research and development journey of those new drugs that make it to market will have taken around 12 years and cost around £1.15bn.”
Since the dawn of science, a lot of budget and power has been given to the medical establishment to try and find a new cure or a quicker way of doing something. On the whole, we owe a great deal to the findings of scientists. However, just as many drugs have fallen to the wayside, many substances have also been created that have quite incredible recreational and therapeutic effects. It is at this point that the government takes over and decides whether these drugs can remain in the public domain - or whether it be better that they are taken away and instead sold illegally and unsafely on the dark web. Doesn’t really make sense does it?
Every substance has its own story, and ketamine’s is just as interesting as the rest. Ketamine originates from its cousin substance, phencyclidine, which was discovered in 1956 as a remarkable anesthetic for monkeys. It was then used on humans but was found to have less remarkable effects, with people finding it hard to come back to normality after waking up. Many participants experienced sleep paralysis and even a lack of sense in their limbs. Due to this problem, Doctor Calvin Lee Stevens worked at fixing the issues with this drug and, in turn, synthesized a new one: ketamine. This substance had the same anesthetic effects, without the issues after. Reset Ketamine writes:
“On August 3, 1964, the first human was given intravenous ketamine. Subjects administered ketamine had minimal emergence delirium. They described the experience like floating in space, as if they were disconnected from their body and environment with a loss of feeling in their limbs. Because of this strange sensation, ketamine is called a dissociative anesthetic. After Food and Drug Administration approval in 1970, ketamine was used on injured soldiers during the Vietnam War because of its large margin of safety.”
Ketamine also began being used as a party, recreational drug. If you’ve ever taken it, then you won’t be surprised why people love using it so much. In smaller doses, ketamine not only dissociates you from your body, but it also severely reduces anxiety. It makes everything weird, but in a fun way. It’s like you’re watching an extra strange Christopher Nolan film, whilst in a warm bath, but the film is 10 times slower than usual. The slowness does not bother you, instead it’s just weirdly interesting. The Cut writes:
“It’s like walking from your kitchen to your living room, and from your living room to your kitchen, and it’s uphill both ways, but you’ve never had so much fun walking up a hill.”
Ketamine offers something that LSD, cocaine and ecstasy does not - which is why it stands alone as a highly popular party drug. In my opinion, the reason why ketamine is likeable to recreational drug lovers is because it offers you a chance to dissociate but maintain a certain level of consciousness. Plus, it takes away a lot of the cares and negative thoughts you may have. This is a big reason why esketamine was legalized in the UK in 2020, as a treatment for those suffering from moderate to severe depression. It was proven that the drug gave instant relief for those who were feeling suicidal and extremely low.
Ketamine and Alcoholism
But this isn’t the only benefit from ketamine, recent research has discovered that the substance may also be able to help with addiction therapy. Awakn clinics, a London based biotech company, is licensing ketamine to treat alcohol misuse. Their research showed that when those suffering from severe alcohol abuse tendencies were treated with a ketamine injection, they were more likely to stop drinking than those who were given the placebo. Awakn’s treatment was 86% effective over a six month period, whereas the current treatments are only 25% effective over a 12 month period.
The injection was taken alongside their own version of psychotherapy, which helps participants to analyze their experiences whilst taking the treatment. The biotech company chief executive officer Anthony Tennyson said that: “You can re-calibrate the brain during that optimum time of neurogenesis”. Despite the fact that ketamine is yet to be approved in America to treat alcoholism, his company has done a deal with Revitalist, has 9 clinics in the six of the US states. Their aim is to start treatments in October of this year. Bloomberg UK continues:
“Awakn is also studying the treatment’s benefits in gambling, compulsive sexual disorder, internet gaming disorder and binge-eating disorder. Of course, ketamine itself can be addictive. Tennyson said its protocols only include three to four sessions, which are “not sufficient exposure to develop a resistance or a dependence.”
The question is: how long will this mind alteration last? Is it a long-term change or do you eventually forget about the experience and return to your old ways? This is something that is still being explored and will surely be revealed as more research is done into alternative methods of stopping alcoholism. Ketamine isn’t the only psychoactive substance that is now being used as an alcoholic reducing substance, with psilocybin and LSD also being explored.
LSD and Psilocybin Therapy
Like ketamine, the belief is that with drug-assisted therapy, these psychedelics can alter an addict's mind and stop their dependencies. The creator of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, reported that LSD helped him to end his alcoholism. The problem was, he couldn’t make that an integral part of A.A due to the government’s backlash on the drug. The Guardian writes:
“After his first acid trip, at the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Los Angeles on 29 August 1956, Wilson began to believe it was insight, not terror, that could help alcoholics recover. LSD, by mimicking insanity, could help alcoholics achieve a central tenet of the Twelve Step program proposed by AA, he believed.”
He saw the power of LSD to align with the common 12 step program that is used to stop addictions. In a recent study, psilocybin too has been found, with the right therapy, to seriously reduce patients' reliance on alcohol. The various studies have commonalities, they all happen with therapy alongside, and they all use substances that lead to a sort of dissociated state or - in want of a batter term - ego death. This allows the participants to stop thinking of themselves with pain or resentment, and instead analyze their own behavior from the outside. This is a kind of mindfulness.
There is a great deal of positive research being done into various drug-assisted therapy as a way to end addictions. Ketamine, which has already been legalized in the form of esketamine in some countries, may be the most likely treatment to be accepted. In addition, the recent study by Awakn proves that the substance can genuinely cause a positive change - more than the current treatments are able to. The hope now is that clinics open up and that those who require the treatment are able to access it without huge issues.
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