Can I Use Ketamine for My OCD Symptoms?

Mental health is often misunderstood and untreated or undertreated (especially in the US), fortunately, however, science is starting to recognize the role of psychedelics, like ketamine, play in the treatment of mental health conditions, like OCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition that involves recurrent, involuntary, and unwanted intrusive thoughts, urges, beliefs, feelings, sensations, doubts, fears, and/or mental images (obsessions) and rituals and routines (compulsions). Although, most people experience repetitive thoughts and behaviors, when it becomes out of control and interferes with your life – i.e., daily tasks, relationships, job function or attendance, self-esteem and self-confidence, etc.; OCD may be the culprit.

Truth be told, most people with OCD realize that their thoughts and behaviors are illogical or unrealistic, however, they are unable to stop them. And, even though the psychotherapy (i.e., CBT, ACT, ERP therapy) and/or medication, usually SSRIs (antidepressants), are the “go-to” OCD treatments, sometimes these conventional methods are unsuccessful. Unfortunately, however, most antidepressants come with a host of unpleasant side effects.

Unsuccessful OCD treatments can lead OCD sufferers in a different direction. More specifically, it can cause these individuals to turn to unconventional, alternative or holistic, and “off-label” OCD treatments. One such “off-label” OCD treatment is ketamine. Ketamine has recently garnered attention because of its potential benefits and holistic nature.

As a result, doctors have begun to prescribe it for FDA-approved and “off-label” conditions, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. If you have tried OCD therapy and/or antidepressants (SSRIs) without success, you may want to consider trying ketamine for your OCD symptoms.

So, should you use ketamine for OCD? It depends. Although beneficial for some people with OCD, this medication comes with a host of serious side effects. If you decide to take this medication for your OCD symptoms, exercise caution and discuss the pros and cons of using it with your doctor and loved ones.

Content

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative injected anesthetic (used to block sensory perception) and psychedelic. Ketamine or ketamine therapy was developed in 1962, and in 1970, it was approved by the FDA, for veterinary uses (for dogs and horses) and as a surgical anesthetic for soldiers in the Vietnam War. Ketamine is only available by prescription.

Esketamine (Spravato), the S-enantiomer of racemic ketamine, was FDA-approved for treatment-resistant depression, and depressed people with acute suicidal ideation (thoughts and attempts). Ketaset is the brand name of the surgical anesthesia commonly used with animals.

Ketamine is primarily used to prompt and continue the anesthesia during surgery or medical procedures. More specifically, it uses sedation to put you in a trance-like state, and ease your pain, anxiety, depression, etc.

Ketamine triggers short-term amnesia, which is thought to help “calm” intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors. Ketamine preserves your airway reflexes and oxygen levels and blood pressure. At lower doses, ketamine can reduce pain and provides relief for people, suffering from treatment-resistant depression. However, the effects of a single administration of ketamine appear to diminish fairly quickly without repeated applications.

Note: Dissociative drugs, like ketamine, can lead to “distorted” or “abnormal” images, colors, sounds, self, and environment. Examples of other dissociative drugs include phencyclidine (PCP) and dextromethorphan. Under the DEA Controlled Act, ketamine is considered a Schedule III drug, however, it is not considered a narcotic (opioid) or barbiturate.

Is Ketamine Called Other Names?

Yes!

Listed below are common or “street names” for ketamine:

  • “K”
  • “Special K”
  • “K2”
  • “Vitamin K”
  • “Super K”
  • “Super C”
  • “Lady K”
  • “Ket”
  • “Kit Kat”
  • “Ketaset”
  • “Ketaject”
  • “Jet”
  • “Super Acid”
  • “Green-Purple”
  • “Mauve”
  • “Super Acid”
  • “Special LA Coke”
  • “Cat Tranquilizers”
  • “Cat Valium”

What Forms Does Ketamine Come In?

Ketamine comes in a clear liquid or off-white powder form for intravenous injection. It is also available in a nasal spray. “Powdered” ketamine is available in 100-200mgs and comes in a small glass container, a plastic bag, a capsule, a piece of paper, glassine (smooth, glossy paper), or an aluminum foil folds.

This form of ketamine is usually cut into lines (referred to as “bumps”) and snorted. Sometimes, “powdered” ketamine is rolled up in marijuana or tobacco cigarettes and smoked. “Liquid” ketamine is either injected into the body or added to a beverage (i.e., wine, beer, cocktail, etc.). Ketamine can be used alone or combined with MDMA, amphetamines, methamphetamines, or cocaine.

Ketamine is often administered intravenously (infusion) for about 45 minutes. Because ketamine is considered a “psychedelic” and addictive, OCD sufferers who are given ketamine infusions are closely monitored – during and after the infusion. On rare occasions, a doctor may administer ketamine intranasally (through the nose) or intramuscularly (in a muscle) to a person with OCD. Regardless of how this medication is administered in a doctor’s office, hospital, or another medical facility.

Why is Ketamine Prescribed?

Listed below are some reasons a doctor may prescribe ketamine:

  • For pain relief and short-term memory loss
  • For surgical purposes (as an induction and maintenance agent for sedation) and/or as general anesthesia
  • For burn pain control, war injuries, and in children, who cannot use other anesthetics because of allergies or side effects
  • As an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) “blocker” (to rapidly control depression, anxiety, OCD, and acute suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts and attempts)
  • As an anesthetic for OCD sufferers, who are at risk of developing bronchospasm and/or respiratory distress

How Long Does It Take for Ketamine to “Kick In?” How Long Does It Stay in The Body?

Ketamine injections usually yield the quickest response – from seconds or minutes.

“Snorting” ketamine usually provides the second quickest response – from 5 to 15 minutes (this is the method most commonly linked to ketamine abuse). Capsules typically kick in between 5 and 30 minutes.

Ketamine can stay in your system for 1 to 2 hours; however, your senses could be affected for up to 24 hours. During this time, you may experience the following sensations, such as floating, stimulation, and/or visual disturbances.

High doses of ketamine cause serious or dangerous side effects, such as muscle spasms or rigid muscles, muscle weakness, dizziness, balance issues, impaired vision, extreme mental confusion, gastrointestinal distress (i.e., nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc.), shortness of breath, slurred speech, etc.

Will Ketamine Affect My Mind?

Possibly.

Ketamine can trigger hallucinations and delusions in some people. More specifically, ketamine can distort your perceptions (sight and sound) causing you to have an “out of body experience.” In other words, it can make you feel out of control or “disconnected.” People, who abuse drugs, state that a “Special K” high is better than a PCP or LSD one, primarily because of its hallucinatory properties – and its temporary effects (I.e., lasting between 30-60 minutes) as compared to other hallucinogens that typically last hours.

Listed below are the “street name” versions of ketamine that could affect your mind:

  • “K-Land” (a calm and vibrant sensation)
  • “K-Hole” (an out-of-body or “near-death” sensation)
  • “Baby Food” (a blissful and low energy sensation)
  • “God” (a “meeting God” sensation)

Note: If you take ketamine for your OCD symptoms, you should see, at least minimal results, within a few minutes, especially if it is administered intravenously, smoked, or snorted. It may take a slightly longer time to work if you take ketamine capsules by mouth. There is a small risk of developing hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (i.e., irritability, depression, anxiety, mental confusion or cognitive delays, unconsciousness, and/or memory loss or amnesia).

How Will Ketamine Physically Affect Me?

Some OCD sufferers experience a rise in heart rate and blood pressure a few minutes after taking ketamine, however, they tend to return to normal after 10-20 minutes. This medication may also cause you to become unresponsive to stimuli, during which time you may experience out-of-control rapid eye movements, excessive salivation (slobbering) and/or tears secretions, dilated pupils, nausea, and muscle stiffness.

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How Often Will I Have to Get Ketamine Therapy Infusions?

Most OCD sufferers begin ketamine therapy with six infusions, administered for one-to-two weeks. Afterward, your doctor may recommend one or two treatments every three-to-five weeks (for up to a year).

What are the Side Effects of Ketamine?

  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Physical and/or Emotional Detachment
  • Slurred Speech
  • Reduced Reflexes
  • Hallucinations (30-60 minutes)
  • Nystagmus or Repetitive, Uncontrolled Eye Movements

Note: Abusing ketamine or taking large doses can trigger strong and frightening hallucinations or vivid dreams or nightmares that are worsened by environmental stimuli (i.e., vibrant colors, potent smells, loud noises, etc.). In some cases, abusing ketamine can lead to unconsciousness, coma, or “near death” sensations.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Taking Ketamine for OCD?

Ketamine has given hope to millions of people, around the world, suffering from OCD. Some people turn to ketamine because it takes less time to produce noticeable effects (fewer or no OCD symptoms) in the body. Truthfully, most people, who turn to this medication to treat their OCD symptoms, do so because they have had little-to-no success with conventional OCD treatments, like SSRIs (i.e., Luvox, Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, etc.) and/or psychotherapy (i.e., CBT, ACT, ERP therapy, etc.).

The exact way ketamine works in the brain remains elusive, which makes it a safety risk. Moreover, there is some evidence that taking higher than recommended doses of ketamine, using it chronically, or abusing it may inflame your bladder and/or lead to cognitive impairment – in some people. There is also the risk of ketamine drug addiction.

A benefit of using ketamine is that it is fast-acting which means OCD sufferers, like yourself, can experience relief from their symptoms quicker. It can also produce positive improvements in the body, such as increased insight, motivation, affect, and behavior (fewer compulsions) – in some people. Another benefit is that it appears to work differently than SSRIs and other antidepressants, so if those medications did not work for you, this one may.

Listed below are other pros and cons of using ketamine for OCD:

Pros
Faster OCD Relief

As mentioned above, OCD is generally treated with a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant drugs (i.e., SSRIs). Although antidepressants are not specifically designed to reduce or eliminate OCD symptoms, they have shown some success at helping to “calm” obsessions and compulsions.

Still, approximately 33% of people with OCD are unable to garner significant relief from conventional OCD treatments, primarily because it can take a while (3 months or more) to experience a noticeable change in OCD symptoms. Conversely, ketamine offers OCD sufferers almost immediate OCD relief.

For instance, one study found that ketamine can reduce or eliminate obsessions within 10 minutes of being infused with it. Unfortunately, however, there is a strong chance that the obsessions will return 40-230 minutes after completing the infusion. Still, people, who receive ketamine infusions typically do not return to their previous level of obsessions until 7 days (or later) post-infusion.

Another study found that people, who take singular ketamine infusions for OCD, can experience relief for approximately two weeks post-infusion. This is significant for people, who are struggling with OCD because ketamine infusions are fast-acting and effective to help you better manage OCD symptoms. In low doses, ketamine can produce a state of calmness and relaxation in the mind and body, potentially reducing or eliminating obsessions.

Cons
Limited Research

Because ketamine has only entered the mental health arena, there is not much research in this area. Due to the lack of studies, researchers are not exactly sure how it reduces or eliminates OCD symptoms. And, because studies are limited, it is impossible to definitively know the correct dosage for OCD or the long-term effects of using this medication for OCD.

Possible short-term and long-term effects of taking ketamine for OCD:

  • Possible Short-Term Effects: Drug abuse, inattention, learning delays, memory problems, dreamlike states, hallucinations, delusions, sedation, mental confusion, hypertension, unconsciousness, and/or depressed breathing
  • Possible Long-Term Effects: Drug addiction, bladder ulcers and pain, kidney problems, abdominal pain, depression, anxiety or OCD symptoms, and/or a loss of memory or cognitive impairment

Is Ketamine Used Recreationally?

Yes, it is.

Ketamine is also used as a recreational drug – in powder and liquid forms. The most common form of ketamine that is used recreationally as “Special K.” “Special K” is the go-to street drug because of its hallucinogenic and dissociative properties.

Is Ketamine Dangerous?

It can be in the wrong hands.

In addition to its legal and medical uses, ketamine’s hallucinogenic properties can lead to drug abuse and drug addiction. It is also sometimes used as a “date rape” drug, which makes it a highly dangerous medication. When used illegally, ketamine is typically “snorted” up the nose (usually in social situations).

Some ketamine abusers or addicts inject ketamine into their bodies, add it to beverages (i.e., alcohol) and drink it or to marijuana or tobacco and smoke it. It is also common to combine ketamine with other drugs or illegal substances, like cocaine, opioids, or amphetamines. However, doing so could lead to overdoses and/or death. Thus, purchasing or using ketamine (in any form) off of the street is illegal – and dangerous.

Yes, it is.

During the 1970s, ketamine was first marketed as an injectable, short-acting anesthetic for use in humans and animals. In 1999, ketamine became a Schedule III non-narcotic substance (under the Controlled Substances Act). Today, ketamine is used for short-term sedation and anesthesia.

In 2019, the FDA approved the ketamine (esketamine) nasal spray version – Spravato for treatment-resistant depression, however, this medication is only available at a specialty or certified doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic. Ketamine is also used “off-label” to treat anxiety conditions, like OCD.

What is it Like to Take Ketamine for OCD?

Listed below is a real-life personal account of the effectiveness of ketamine for OCD symptoms:

Jerry R.

“Geuris “Jerry” Rivas, a New Yorker, was diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) when he was only 15. He became obsessed with organizing and reorganizing the belongings in his bedroom — posters, comic books, and videos.

Forced by germ obsessions to compulsively wash and rewash his hands, Jerry started wearing gloves all day to both protect him from the germs and stop him from washing his hands raw. Even, at 36, OCD symptoms continued to cost Jerry jobs and relationships. However, he managed to turn his organizational skills into a real profession, as a home organizer and house cleaner. But unfortunately, he continued to struggle with his obsessions every day.

In 2012, Jerry participated in a clinical trial to test ketamine as a treatment for OCD. Although ketamine is FDA-approved as an anesthetic, it is also considered an illegal “party drug,” known as “Special K,” a version of ketamine known for its hallucinogenic effects and risk of abuse. With a single infusion of the drug, Jerry’s obsessions and compulsions ceased – obsessions and compulsions that had dominated his life for decades. “I felt like, for the first time, I was able to function like a regular person.””

Are There Other Ways to Treat OCD?

Absolutely!

OCD can be treated in a variety of “safer” and effective ways, such as with lifestyle changes (i.e., proper sleep, healthy diet, regular exercise, etc.), stress-management techniques, hypnotherapy/hypnosis, vitamin, mineral, and/or herbal supplements, books and apps on OCD, CBD, journaling, healthy coping skills and strategies, OCD support groups or forums, natural remedies, using mindfulness mediation, spending time with friends and family, and/or using self-help tools, like Impulse Therapy, an online OCD course designed to help you get your OCD symptoms under control.

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Author

DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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