March 18, 2022

A Patient’s Experience with Ketamine

Written by

Alexa Julianne

Sean describes how his depression improved with a year-long ketamine treatment

Black and white photo of intravenous fluid bags hanging on rack.
Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash


Over a year ago, when things were really bad in his life, Sean tried ketamine therapy. Ketamine is a legal anesthetic that is approved by the FDA. Only within the last 20 years has it started to be used as a treatment for depression when research showed that ketamine produces a rapid antidepressant effect, in as little as 40 minutes.

Sean experienced profound results. Not only did ketamine start to resolve his immediate depression, but lifelong issues as well. At the age of 9, he was the victim of a gunshot wound and had been dealing with trauma, depression, and anxiety ever since. He had tried many other medications and treatment options before trying ketamine.

Osmind spoke to Sean to learn more about his experience with ketamine.

What initially led you to seek ketamine treatment?

My horse that I had all my life [over 30 years], had just passed away. Losing him was just something that I really had trouble bearing. Taking care of Rango and making sure he was okay gave me something to do and in a way, was my way of avoiding other issues in my life, my brain injury, my PTSD and to bury myself in something. All these problems I was having in my life, the chronic pain, chronic PTSD and depression, anxiety disorder and social anxiety were now overwhelming and I was at a point where I just was not doing very well. I lost my best friend, my rock, and I just couldn’t snap out of it.

I was surviving, but I was really miserable.

My mom noticed that I wasn’t doing really well and she told me, ‘I’ve been reading and there’s this new drug that they’re experimenting with for depression called ketamine. They’re having really good results with it and there aren’t a lot of side effects.’

And then I started researching a little bit of what she had already done. And I thought, this doesn’t look like a bad thing at all. I thought maybe I needed to try something different.

What other modalities had you tried in the past?

I did all kinds of stuff to try and help me to establish new neural pathways and I’ve always been proactive about my mental health. I’ve seen counselors and I’ve tried a trauma resolution technique which seemed maybe a little helpful. I’ve even tried going to brain support groups. I’ve used Xanax and cannabis to deal with anxiety, which worked up to a point. I’ve tried every single one of [the antidepressants] to the point that they had my brain chemistry fried, including anti-seizure medicines.

I’ve tried so many other medications that didn’t work or just felt like a band-aid that turned you into a zombie. And that was the thing I noticed about antidepressants. I really didn’t feel anything. I just would become kind of numb. And I didn’t like that.

I want to feel my feelings. I want to grow and evolve as a human. So, the normalcy that I have gotten from doing ketamine is amazing. It’s like, is this what it’s like to feel normal? Yeah.

So nothing, nothing that I have done has helped as much as ketamine.

What is the ketamine process like?

Many ketamine clinic protocols are based on the study results establishing that a series of six ketamine infusions resulted in a large and sustained decrease in depression with an overall response rate of 70.8%. Researchers also noted that suicidal ideation decreased amongst all participants, even in those who didn’t respond to the ketamine treatment.

Ketamine is delivered by a trained professional through either an intramuscular or intravenous injection that takes effect right away. Most patients experience a deep relaxation. The entire process lasts an hour, and the antidepressant effects can last days to weeks. After the initial series of six infusions, patients can begin a maintenance period, where they can choose to return for one infusion every two to six weeks.

Calm white clinic room with bamboo plant.
Photo by Riccardo Pelati on Unsplash


The whole process takes about an hour and a half for me. By the end of the day, you can already tell that it’s getting out of your system. It metabolizes quickly, so it doesn’t stay in your system like other anesthetics or drugs.

You need to have music or a meditation, something to take you on a journey. If you just kind of sit there and do it, it’s going to be enjoyable, but it’s not going to be the same. The music or the meditation I’ve been doing lately is incredible because their power is multiplied exponentially. You’re so willing to go deep and you’re listening and trying to relax even more. And then I start to float, and my brain disassociates from my body. And as long as I don’t open my eyes, things start to move around me, or I start to move within the free space. It’s really amazing, the things that you may experience. Everything moves on ketamine for me. I can’t speak for other people, but when I’m having a really good experience, things are moving and changing around me all based upon what I’m thinking. Unlike other psychedelics that seem to just take over, ketamine works with you. And I don’t need someone to facilitate or guide me while I’m on ketamine. I put on my headphones and meditate, and the journey is up to me. That’s the other nice thing about ketamine — you’re in control.

I noticed a change right away, right after the first infusion. For me, just to get away from the grief at the time was a miracle. We chart everything, so after I did the initial six [infusions], what we figured out is that at the end of four weeks, I start to taper, I start to fall off a little bit back into depression. So, what we determined was if I get an infusion every month, I do not slip into physical depression period. I just don’t. So, it was just, wow, I need this medicine, I’m feeling good, and making progress.

And then of course, because of the mood monitor, they’ve tracked all of my emotions for over a year and at the last infusion, we went over it all. It’s literally a year’s worth of emotions and it’s still up and down, but overall, I have mild depression instead of severe depression.

I would not be an advocate for ketamine if it wasn’t a miracle and to be a hundred percent honest, for me, it’s been a miracle.

A representation of Sean’s mood chart, created by Osmind

What changes did you notice after your ketamine treatment?

Right now, I’m at an eight on the one-to-ten scale, which for me is basically like a ten.

What ketamine has been able to do for me is it takes away that dark view of the world and kind of gives you a new outlook.

Ketamine gives us the ability to see the good things that are happening instead of focused completely on the negative.

And that has not been easy the last four years for me. But I would say in general, ketamine helps me with all the other things I need to get done because it helps to keep you on task.

The other nice thing is the ketamine’s helping me to not be so angry or go straight to a negative place. It prevents me from automatically going into that victim mode. Ketamine helps you to think more clearly because it’s repairing your brain. It takes you out of depression, out of anxiety, physically takes you out in my case.

You just want to make sure you do it supervised. You should not be doing ketamine in an unsupervised setting. The deeper you can go in, the more work you get done. It’s like you dig through layers of pain and agony and the stuff that’s hidden from you. Ketamine does not allow you to hide from anything. It’s very honest, and it’s amazing.

Hopefully, a lot more people become more open-minded when they see the Ted Talk where they’re actually showing the empirical data and they’re proving that psychedelics are repairing neurons and ketamine is improving neuroplasticity. Again, I don’t know of any other medication that does what ketamine does.

In one research paper, patients also described a new ability to undertake common activities after ketamine, such as cooking, cleaning the house, going to the gym, or walking the dog. Patients also reported being more social and communicative, being able to focus and concentrate better, and having more positive thoughts.

What do you tell people that feel nervous about ketamine treatment?

If you open your eyes [during the infusion], that will take you right out of the psychedelic aspect instantly and you feel just kind of buzzed. So, I tell people if you’re afraid, don’t be. You can open your eyes and the psychedelic experience will stop immediately. And you’ll just be back in the room again. You’ll be able to tell that you’re anesthetized, and you don’t really want to move, but it’s not like other drugs. With other powerful psychedelic medications, you’re just along for the ride.

A man in board shorts floats in the middle of the shallow, clear waters of the ocean.
Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash

Troches

Troches [troh-cheez] are an oral version of low-dose ketamine in the form of a dissolving lozenge. They are prescribed by a physician for at-home use.

Troches are a booster and can get you through a rough patch. I will use them if I have a bad day. You might take them every three days or so, but you really don’t want to do them every day because you’re just going to cut back the effectiveness of it because you do develop a tolerance.

If you take the troches, it can affect the infusion. I try to not do any oral ketamine at least four days prior to getting my infusion because I want to go as deep as possible.

Is there anything you need to be careful about after the ketamine treatment?

You have to give the medicine four days afterwards to soak in and let some of the repairs happen. So, you have to be really aware of people in your life. They might mean well, but they can screw up your therapy and you might feel like you just wasted $450. So, it’s very, very important to keep yourself in the right mindset while you’re doing ketamine treatment and afterwards, too, to give yourself the best chance for your brain to heal, because it is literally healing your brain.

People should not be embarrassed or feel bad about wanting to feel euphoria because I think there’s a stigma to that. [People say], ‘Oh, you’re taking a hallucinogenic, you’re going to fry your brain.’

No, I’m not. I’m taking a psychedelic medication and I’m having amazing results.

What was your experience dealing with insurance companies?

I’ve been fighting the insurance company for months. Before I received the treatment, it was completely approved to be paid for by my insurance company. The initial hurdle was after getting the treatment when they said they wouldn’t pay for it.

For two months, I tried to get the payment with no progress. But after that, I got serious. For two months, I spent two hours a day of almost every day on the phone with them to get them to pay for it.

I’m finally now getting 80% of the infusions reimbursed but they don’t want to pay for that final 20%, even though they agreed to pay for it. That’s my next challenge. I encourage people to reach out to their Congress person to ask that ketamine treatment be covered by insurance.

If you’re persistent and you don’t give up and you ask to get a hold of someone in the company that’s willing to help you, you eventually will find somebody. If I can do it, then other people can do it and other people could at least be getting this 80% covered. But because I got them to do it, it should be easier for the next person.

Ketamine infusions for depression usually cost between $400-$800 per infusion treatment, on average.

Getting involved in the Osmind Community

Everyone I’ve talked to that does ketamine infusions is getting some kind of wonderful benefit, like all of us. There’s the community that you guys are providing. The best thing I’ve gotten out of the community is to know that there’s other people that are working on the same thing and getting great results.

I’m really glad that I tried ketamine. I’m really glad my mom loved me enough to say, ‘Hey, I love you. Please try this. I’ve read a lot about it. People are having really good results.’

Young caucasian woman on leather couch working at a laptop while browsing her phone
Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash


What else would you like to share with our readers?

Ketamine treatment is something I care deeply about and feel so strongly. If we could help people, they don’t have to live what I lived. They could have happiness instead of pain. We could do that for people. I want that for humanity. Think about how people with depression might be functioning better if they had ketamine. They might be a better spouse; they might be able to go back to school.

In other words, when something works, it creates a butterfly effect. Once you feel better, you can start to work on your thinking, you can talk to your counselor, you can meditate.

Ketamine is a big tool in the toolbox is what I want to finish with. There are still other tools and it’s not a magic button. But it’s the closest thing that I’ve seen in my life to a magic button.

It’s a miracle drug, I’ve never experienced anything like it. Just to be able to experience that has been so powerful. I tell [my ketamine doctors] how grateful I am to be able to even have half of my life back, for people like me and the other folks.

People can see a change in me — my friends and family and even people that I didn’t tell. They say, ‘What are you doing? You seem so happy these days.’ I say, ‘I’m a lot happier for sure.’ But then I tell them,

‘I’ve had depression all my life. I’m doing ketamine therapy and it’s wonderful.’

Osmind

Join the Osmind Community, a safe space for people with treatment-resistant depression and related mental health conditions to receive and provide support. It is a depression forum and depression chat with mutual support, positivity, and empathy. It is also for people who are interested in innovative treatments such as psychedelic medicine (including ketamine, esketamine, MDMA, psilocybin, and more). Members are all deeply valued and enrich one another’s lives as we pool together our strength, perspectives, experiences, and knowledge.

This article has been edited for clarity and readability. Italics (minus the quotes) were added to provide additional context about ketamine treatment.

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