Ketamine Therapy for Anxiety: An Overview

Medically reviewed by Dr. Mark Hrymoc, M.D.

The symptoms can feel overwhelming, whether you experience general anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, or post-traumatic stress disorder. You are willing to try any treatment to ease the symptoms; for many, the first line of treatment is an antidepressant medication. Combined with counseling, antidepressants can be effective.

Not everyone sees improvement, however. They fall into the category of treatment-resistant anxiety. They have tried multiple medications and protocols, yet nothing seems to work. Fortunately, there are new therapies to help people overcome treatment-resistant anxiety, such as ketamine therapy.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a synthetic drug initially used as an anesthetic in the 1960s. In the following decade, ketamine was used illegally as a recreational drug for its hallucinatory effects when taken in large doses. Researchers have recently studied its effects on mental health symptoms that aren’t treated with typical antidepressants and therapies. 

Findings show ketamine is an excellent alternative when administered through infusions. The Food and Drug Administration Services approved ketamine as a nasal spray Esketamine to treat depression. Doctors find it is also helpful in treating anxiety.

How is Ketamine Therapy Different Than Antidepressants?

Antidepressants work in the brain to boost Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitters that boost your mood. Ketamine works on a neurotransmitter called glutamate. It increases glutamate, which also improves mood. 

Antidepressants often take days or weeks to start working. Ketamine only takes a few hours to work. People on antidepressants report side effects and withdrawal symptoms when missing a dose of their medication or trying to wean off it. Ketamine is administered at the lowest dose by a psychiatrist or clinician; most side effects are positive. You don’t have to be weaned from it since the body does not become dependent upon it.

Antidepressants are taken orally, daily. Ketamine is taken once during the ketamine treatment. You do not take a prescription of ketamine home with you. It is not considered an addictive medicine when administered through ketamine therapies.

Types of Ketamine Therapies for Anxiety

Ketamine can be administered in several practical ways. The most effective way is with intravenous infusions. Ketamine runs through an I.V. directly into your veins and to the brain, giving you a total dose of the medicine. Within minutes, you can feel it working. 

Intramuscular administration is when your doctor injects ketamine into a muscle. The medication enters your muscles, goes to your bloodstream, and then travels to the brain. Nasal spray may be administered once or twice weekly in the beginning. The medication enters the nasal passage and into the bloodstream to the brain. You risk losing some of the medicine with the nasal spray if it is not administered correctly.

Some reports suggest sublingual ketamine tablets may be prescribed, but they are not the most effective. Anything taken orally must pass through the digestive system, degrading it before it reaches your bloodstream. You likely will not receive the total dose, either.

Does Ketamine Therapy for Anxiety Work?

It would be dangerous to claim that ketamine works for everyone because there is no guarantee. Too many factors play a role in how well ketamine works. Depending on some physical and psychological factors, you may not even qualify for ketamine treatment. For example, someone who has cardiovascular problems, past psychosis episodes, or uncontrolled blood pressure is not recommended for ketamine therapies.

Studies show results can be quick and long-lasting for those who do qualify. One study found that 84% of participants noticed improvements within one hour of treatment. In a study that compared ketamine with a placebo, participants receiving ketamine infusions showed a greater reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Ketamine therapies work best when a person continues taking their antidepressant and counseling with a mental health professional. Some people choose ketamine-assisted therapy, which combines cognitive behavioral techniques and ketamine infusions. In addition, mindfulness techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing contribute to the long-term success of anxiety treatments.

Which Types of Anxiety Can Be Treated?

Multiple anxiety disorders exist today, including generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety, agoraphobia, separation anxiety, and selective mutism. Two disorders consisting of anxiety symptoms include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They were once a sub-category of Anxiety but now have their category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM5). 

Ketamine therapy for anxiety can alleviate feelings of dread and nervousness, fear of being judged in social settings, racing thoughts about a particular trauma, and panic. 

What to Expect During Ketamine Therapy for Anxiety

Upon arrival at the clinic, where you will have therapy, you will be taken to an area where you can get comfortable and relax. A psychiatrist or clinical staff will administer a dose of ketamine that will last one hour or less. Because you are in a relaxed state of mind, you may feel drowsy and may even drift off to sleep. Other mild side effects may include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dissociation
  • Perceptual changes
  • Blurred vision

Some people report it feels like an out-of-body experience, like a floating feeling. 

Where to Get Ketamine Therapy for Anxiety

One of the most important steps in receiving ketamine therapy for anxiety is finding the right clinic with the best doctors and staff. Finding the right clinic may require some research. Look at online reviews, ask for references from former patients or an interview with their staff. Questions to ask:

  • What training or background do the medical staff have in ketamine therapy?
  • How many ketamine therapies have been performed at their clinic?
  • How do they qualify people for ketamine therapy?
  • Do they offer support services, like counseling or antidepressant medication?
  • How do they monitor people before, during, and after undergoing ketamine therapy?
  • How many infusions are typically given to participants?

Contacting a treatment facility with multiple therapy resources, like the Mental Health Center, is ideal because you can receive everything you need to overcome anxiety in one place. And you don’t have to wait. You can call today to speak with treatment staff about how to get started.