Ketamine and PTSD: A New Treatment Option

When traditional treatments for mental disorders don’t work, what do you do? This is an issue people face every day. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that seen more attention recently. This attention has resulted in positive progress towards funding, research, and reducing the stigma, but when it comes to treatment options there is still a lack compared to other disorders like depression. This is part of the reasons doctors have turned to ketamine, a novel, and unusual choice but an effective one, to help treat PTSD.

Understanding PTSD

PTSD is a psychological disorder that develops after traumatic experiences. This disorder is often associated with military personnel who experienced combat, but it can also be developed after common traumatic events like car accidents, natural disasters, or sexual assault. Luckily, the lifetime prevalence of developing PTSD is only about 10%, though women are twice as likely to develop it.

Symptoms can vary depending on the individual. People usually experience some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks of a traumatic event(s)
  • Distress when exposed to triggers
  • Hypervigilance or hyperarousal
  • Negative thoughts or moods

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, these symptoms must be present for at least a month.

Currently, there are two main treatment options for PTSD – psychotherapy, and medication. These two treatment options are usually combined for the best results. Psychotherapy focuses on coping with triggers and emotions from the trauma, while the medication is used to manage the symptoms.

Understanding Ketamine

Ketamine was developed in the 1960s to be used during the Vietnam War. It was used as an anesthetic drug to block pain during operations. It’s still used today but not as often as other anesthetic drugs.

Most people know ketamine as a street drug. The drug makes users feel detached, disembodies, and they can experience hallucinations. These effects have made it a popular party drug. On the streets, it’s referred to as “Special K”.

Even though it has become a street drug, ketamine still is a valuable drug in treating mental disorders. In 2000, researchers began studying ketamine for treatment-resistant depression options for depression and have since expanded that search into other disorders like PTSD. They have discovered it improves mood much faster than traditional medications and it works in cases when those drugs have failed.

Ketamine and PTSD

So how does ketamine work to treat PTSD?

Firstly, it should be understood that ketamine is only FDA approved to be used as an anesthetic. The results for it as a treatment option for other disorders are promising so this will likely be expanded in the future. Ketamine should only be a treatment option when traditional treatment plans, like therapy and medications, have failed.

The drug is given through an IV in small doses. Patients report feeling transient but this feeling disappears after an hour or so. Recipients are kept under close watch until the sensation fades. Ketamine might elevate blood pressure and heart rate, but this is monitored. If a patient has any heart issue it should be disclosed before the ketamine is dispensed.

A big benefit of ketamine treatments is the quick rate at which it works. Individuals should feel better within hours or days, whereas traditional medication can take weeks or months to begin working. Most research shows that a single dose of ketamine can rapidly improve PTSD symptoms and a patient should know if the treatment is working within 1-2 infusions. This quick response is great not only for the alleviation of symptoms but also for the instant knowledge about whether or not this treatment option is working.

Ketamine, while effective, isn’t a miracle cure. Doctors still recommend continuing with therapy in addition to the ketamine treatment.


If you are interested in discussing how ketamine can help you, contact us today.


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Since 2003, the Delray Center for Healing has provided exceptional psychiatric and therapeutic care for mental health, eating, and substance use disorders. To learn more about our philosophy and treatment approach, download our free e-book, “Psychiatry Redefined,” written by our founder and medical director, Raul J. Rodriguez, MD.