Ketamine might be all the rage these days when it comes to treating psychological issues, but the reality of these treatments is not often written about, and personal experiences are hard to find. Mostly you’ll just find promotional articles and a few studies. Of course, realities don’t always meet the hype, and perhaps one of the biggest lessons to learn about ketamine therapy, is that it will not work for everyone, and results can vary. It’s important for prospective patients to understand the different possibilities when going in for treatment. This article is my own highly personal experience of my first ketamine infusion.
First off, a little about me
One of the hardest things to do in life is be open about a psychological issue, and its probably for this reason that personal accounts of ketamine therapy are few and far between. Not many people want to actually talk about what drove them to seek treatment in the first place. And while I often consider myself a private person, I think there are times when it’s good to open up for the good of others and public knowledge in general. And for that reason I will tell you a little about me. At least enough to know how I ended up in a ketamine clinic.
I am a child of psychological and physical abuse, as many of us are. My problems are not hard to come by in the general public, and there are plenty of people that can relate. I grew up in a very tense environment, which led to an array of anxiety-related issues, the biggest one regarding my ability to sleep. I am considered an intractable insomniac. I do not respond to regular medications. This can be expanded to anxiety as a whole, though the largest issue I deal with on a consistent basis, is the ability for sleep. As ketamine is looked into for insomnia issues, it is indeed a reason for prescription, along with the underlying anxiety issues that cause it.
You will see different words used to explain this concept of non-response to treatments. ‘Treatment-resistant’ is the most well understood, but you will also see it as ‘intractable’ or ‘refractory.’ All of these words when used with a diagnosis next to them, mean ‘it ain’t responding to anything.’ This is far more common than many realize. Sometimes it’s hard to know that because these aren’t pleasant subjects to speak about, and many people won’t.
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A large part of the ketamine industry is based around the idea that it can possibly help those, that aren’t helped by other treatments or medications. However, it’s also available simply as an alternate treatment for those who don’t like conventional medications. I fit into both categories. I’ve been through the ringer enough in life to know I am unresponsive, but I’m also not a huge fan of the conventional pills that get doled out. I prefer alternative therapies that don’t involve standard medications.
A last point to make about my situation, is that I did not go to a clinic in America, I went to a doctor in Mexico. I am told he is one of only 15 in the country that currently provides this treatment, so its not the set-up industry it now is in the States. However, the doctor I found has been providing such treatments for two years, mostly for pain, but for other issues like mine as well.
The infusion, and the basics of what to expect
I cannot say how this goes in a clinic specifically geared toward these treatments. I can only give my experience of going to a psychiatrist where I am, who provides the treatment. There is less protocol available, and it was my decision originally to undergo an initial six treatments, as it tends to be done in the more set-up industry in America. I was provided very little information on what to expect, or the possible outcomes.
There are different ways to receive ketamine treatment. It can be injected into a muscle (IM), given as a nasal spray (esketamine), provided as a sublingual tab, given as a pill, or the original way, by infusion (IV). I did the infusion. That means I had an IV hooked up to my arm for somewhere between 45 minutes and one hour. For people that don’t like IVs or needles in general, this is probably not the best option, and the other forms of ingestion might be more desirable. This was the only mode of delivery offered to me.
It is administered by weight, but this is less precise than many articles make it sound, or at least it was in my situation. I gave my approximate weight, and an anesthesiologist, whose job it is to be able to eyeball such things, set the dosage for my weight. In my case, I wasn’t actually weighed. I was okay with this, but if you feel better with more precise measurements, make them weigh you. I was given standard racemic ketamine. That just means it was regular ketamine, and not esketamine or arketamine, which make up the two halves of the molecule.
I sat on a couch in a semi-comfortable office with no outside view. A private office within a bigger hospital. I had an IV stuck in my left hand. As my veins are a little narrow, this meant a bruised hand for the next several days. My second treatment was done in my arm for this reason. The doctor asked my music preferences, I said classical was fine, and classical music was put on.
First infusion – my experience
I cannot say the exact dose I was given, but I can say how it felt. I can also say that because I had anxiety over an IV infusion (never had anything like this before), I was given a small amount of xanax beforehand. There is debate in the ketamine therapy world as to whether benzodiazepines can hinder the experience, and honestly, I can’t answer that, and neither can my doctor. I can only say I did have a small amount in my system because of the fear of being hooked up to an IV. Those like me who haven’t undergone many (or any) medical treatments in life might understand the anxiety.
I didn’t spin out, or hallucinate wildly. The idea of ketamine treatment is to use sub-anesthetic doses. As in, you won’t end up in a ‘k-hole‘. I had an experience less often written about. The ketamine produced an anxiety in me, referred to online as ‘ketamine-induced anxiety.’ The issue with new industries is that they get hyped by only the success stories, and the realities of all the possibilities are often left out.
My doctor never mentioned this term, and I had to look into it myself. This is a negative perhaps of going to a doctor in a less set-up industry, where less background information is made available. When it comes to ketamine treatments, non-responders, or negative-responders are actually a large group, and this makes sense. Barely anything in life works for everyone, as we are all so physiologically different. My response is therefore not uncommon, though it isn’t often spoken of yet, probably because it’s not the desired outcome. But, again, its still common, and that makes it important to know about for anyone seeking treatment.
It wasn’t all-out bad though. I certainly felt spacey, and sort of out-there, though I did not hallucinate, or lose track of reality. As an example of my body’s desire to fend off treatments, I actually felt it in waves, which is the opposite of how it should feel when hooked up to an IV. The doctor did what isn’t often done in these treatments (and is more well known for psychedelic treatments) and talked me through it, partly to keep my mind off the anxiety. We went over childhood issues, and patterns of response. He gave me some interesting insights.
When the infusion was over I calmed down partially when the IV was taken out, indicating this method of ingestion is probably not the right one for me. As I calmed down in the following 20 minutes or so, a sick, nauseous feeling crept in. Ketamine is known for this, it doesn’t seem to mean anything in terms of whether the treatment will work, and is a side effect of the medication.
For the next 24 hours or so, I can honestly say I didn’t care about a lot of the things that had been troubling me. I was able to put things on hold that I had not been able to before. I didn’t have a desire to check my phone, or a need to get back to people urgently. It was actually a good feeling, though it was undermined a bit by the sick feeling that persisted, and a general heaviness.
Truth is, this is common too, and can go on even into the next day, as it did for me. Also something not explained by my doctor. The following day it was more a tired feeling, and the good effects wore off throughout the day. While I was able to get more sleep the first night, that was the only night this was true of that first treatment.
I cannot say I felt a response past that point, but this is also common of ketamine treatments. It’s sometimes described online as planting a flower and tending to it over several sessions, without expecting full results right away. So, I was optimistic. I did feel something temporarily, it really did feel like a possible start. I scheduled my second infusion for four days later.
This article relates to my own personal experience with ketamine treatments. It is not generalizable to the entire population, and is meant to help those looking into this treatment, to know some of the possible things to expect. Everyone that tries treatment will have their own experience. Some will not sound like mine. Read the next installment to find out more about my second infusion.
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