Is Ketamine Really a Psychedelic?

July 8, 2022

Nue Life

Nue Life
This article was medically reviewed by Lynn Marie Morski, MD, JD.

Top points

  • Ketamine is often grouped with psychedelics, although it was created as an anesthetic used in operations.
  • Ketamine treatment may provide positive results for patients with depression who have not had success with traditional treatments, such as SSRIs.
  • Unlike other psychedelics, ketamine is an FDA-approved Schedule III medication.

Psychedelics have been making waves in mental health research, so where does that put ketamine? Is ketamine a psychedelic? Ketamine is often grouped with psychoactive substances such as DMT, LSD (acid), MDMA (ecstasy), and psilocybin (magic mushrooms), but is it the same?

Let’s take a closer look at ketamine to understand it in contrast with psychedelic drugs — which are hallucinogenic substances that can impact your thought processes, mood, behavior, and sensory perception.

Then, we’ll consider ketamine psychedelic therapy for treatment-resistant depression and talk about how this drug could be an option for you if you’re dealing with depression.

What Is Ketamine?

Before we determine if ketamine is psychedelic, let’s discuss what it is in the first place. Ketamine is often grouped with psychedelics, but its primary role is as an anesthetic drug used in operations. While it has dissociative and hallucinogenic properties that make it similar to many other psychedelics, it maintains a couple of unique distinctions.

One of the most significant ways ketamine differs from traditional psychedelics is its legal status. While most hallucinogens are illegal for medical and recreational use, ketamine has long been legal for medical and therapeutic use.

Another way ketamine differs from psychedelics is in the way it works. Psychedelics tend to act on the brain’s serotonin system. On the other hand, ketamine works by creating a surge of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which prompts the formation of new connections between nerve cells in the brain.

How Is Ketamine Classified by the DEA?

So, is ketamine psychedelic, and is it classified as such? We’ve already touched on the fact that ketamine and psychedelics have differing legal classifications. Ketamine is a Schedule III drug, which means it is legal to prescribe for both anesthetic purposes and for off-label use for treating mental health conditions like depression.

Though it is legal for prescribed use, it’s not legal to take ketamine recreationally. Using ketamine outside clinical supervision is not recommended.

What Are Psychedelics?

To understand if ketamine is psychedelic, it is also worth going over what psychedelics are. ​Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are known to cause hallucinations and changes in perceptions of your surroundings. In many cases, people who use psychedelic drugs encounter mystical, insightful experiences.

If you’re not familiar with psychedelic drugs, here are a few common psychedelic effects:

  • Changes in mood
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Changes in time perception
  • Quickened heart rate
  • Heightened senses
  • Expanded consciousness

Psychedelic effects aren’t all mystical and euphoric, however. There can also produce several side effects:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Agitation

Almost all hallucinogenic drugs are illegal for recreational use, but that doesn’t stop approximately 30 million U.S. citizens from seeking them out. The recent rise in the popularity of microdosing is influencing more people to consider taking psychedelics.

Is There a Difference Between Ketamine and Psychedelics?

One of the primary differences between psychedelics and ketamine is their classification. Psychedelics are part of the DEA’s Schedule I classification, meaning they’re not currently legal for medical or therapeutic use outside of approved clinical trials. If ketamine is a psychedelic, how is it treated from a legal standpoint? 

Drugs receive a Schedule I status when they are thought to have no known evidence supporting their beneficial use in medicine and have a high potential for misuse. Psychedelic substances are in Phase II and III trials on their way to FDA approval, but they maintain prohibited for now.

Ketamine’s Schedule III classification sets it apart from other psychedelics. This means that, unlike other psychedelics, ketamine can be prescribed legally.

Also, ketamine experiences are notable for their dissociative effect, which is another way in which ketamine differs from other psychedelics. Dissociation may feel like you are separated from your surroundings – and even yourself – which can often be helpful in giving you a new perspective on issues that you may have been struggling with for some time.

What Is Ketamine Used For?

Traditionally, ketamine was first used as an anesthetic. This medication first found its place in human use in the 1970s after being used on animals in the 1960s. Since then, doctors have used it to sedate patients who undergo surgery.

Over time, medical experts began to realize this hallucinogenic drug had a beneficial impact on those dealing with mental distress, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Today, experts are continuing to explore the mental health impact of this medicine. Ketamine psychedelic therapy is quickly becoming more sought-after as mental health research deepens and considers the future of alternative treatments. 

What are Ketamine’s Effects on the Body?

Like other psychedelic drugs, ketamine produces a hallucinogenic experience that may include personal insights and feelings of separation from reality. Typical ketamine experiences last for up to two hours, but the mystical experiences and insights gained under the influence of this drug may stay with you long after the ketamine wears off.

Ketamine can help ease long-term pain in addition to providing a dissociative numbness and dreamlike state. 

Though the effects of ketamine can benefit your mental health, taking ketamine recreationally can come with some side effects. Repeated use of ketamine can cause upset stomach or bladder pain in some people. Some people report bladder pain and incontinence after taking ketamine repeatedly for a period of time.

What Are the Forms of Ketamine?

When used as an anesthetic, ketamine is typically administered intravenously through an IV. However, there are several other ways to take ketamine.

Another way to take ketamine is by dissolving it under your tongue (sublingually). At Nue Life, this is how we offer our ketamine experiences for mental health treatment. It allows you to ingest the ketamine in the comfort of your home without needles, pill-swallowing, or discomfort.

Slightly different from ketamine, esketamine (a form of ketamine) is another psychoactive drug that can be used for treating mental illness. This medication, known as Spravato, is a nasal spray. The FDA has approved this method for use in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) and other treatment-resistant forms of depression.

Remember that ketamine can only be legally prescribed by a trained medical clinician. At Nue Life, we make it possible for you to take this substance comfortably and safely through sublingual treatment in your home.

Are There Benefits to Using Ketamine?

If ketamine is a psychedelic, what are the benefits of using it beyond pain relief? Ketamine has proven its usefulness as an anesthetic, but it also offers evidence-based benefits for mental health. Using ketamine in a controlled setting can introduce at least two primary benefits that can impact your mental health and support your well-being even after it has left your system.

May Help With Depression

Living with a mental illness like depression can be exhausting. Deciding to get help treating your depressive symptoms can be challenging and frustrating at times, and it can be hard to tell which options will work the best for you.

Several studies have shown ketamine’s effectiveness in reducing symptoms of depression with controlled, prescribed use. For some people, SSRIs and typical antidepressants don’t effectively treat their depression. In those cases, ketamine’s antidepressant effects can provide another valuable option.

May Help With Suicidal Thoughts

One five-year study sought to understand ketamine’s effects in better detail. After realizing this drug could rapidly decrease depressive symptoms, Columbia researchers wanted to know whether ketamine treatment could aid in reducing suicidal thoughts.

Their study showed that ketamine worked to help improve cognitive functioning and reduced suicidal ideation as a result. In other words, ketamine’s effects allowed participants to think more clearly, which decreased thoughts of ending one’s life. It’s important to note, however, that those seeking ketamine treatment for suicidal thoughts are best suited for in-person ketamine treatment.

What Is Ketamine Treatment?

Ketamine treatment is a legal therapeutic alternative that can help reduce symptoms of depression. When someone enters into this treatment, they work with a medical team to provide safety and minimize potential harm.


By many accounts, ketamine being psychedelic speaks for itself. Ketamine treatment consists of several ketamine experiences stretched over time. During each experience, ketamine patients take ketamine orally, intravenously, intramuscularly, or through a nasal spray. Then, they begin feeling the effects of this powerful psychoactive substance, which can be a relaxing, uninhibited, and deeply meaningful time.

Preparation and Integration

To maximize the effect of ketamine treatment, patients undergo ketamine experiences in collaboration with a structured preparation and integration process. This combination allows the ketamine patient to prepare and set intentions for their experience beforehand and process their profound experiences and integrate insights they may have gotten into their daily life. This integration process can help extend the antidepressant effects of ketamine past the treatment experience.

Is There Anyone Who Shouldn’t Undergo Ketamine Treatment?

Because ketamine may be considered psychedelic, it’s encouraged to consider if it may not be the treatment for you. Not everyone will be a good fit for ketamine treatment, and that’s okay. If you have pre-existing health conditions affecting your bladder, consider speaking with your doctor about this treatment option. Other conditions that make individuals not suited for ketamine treatment include those pregnant or breastfeeding, those who’ve shown a sensitivity to ketamine in the past, and individuals who’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia. It can also be a poor fit for those with blood pressure abnormalities. 

Ketamine treatments are also only legal and safe for mental health purposes, and you shouldn’t seek them out if you’re looking for a recreational experience. Nue Life only accepts patients into our programs who are seeking mental health treatment.

How Can I Get Started With Ketamine Treatment?

So, how can you get started with ketamine psychedelic therapy? If you’re looking for an alternative treatment method to help you get to the bottom of your depression, our Nue Life programs may help you access deeper revelation and healing. You can get started by scheduling your free evaluation today. From there, we’ll discuss how our programs work and help answer any questions you have about ketamine treatments.

The Bottom Line

Psychedelic therapies may be groundbreaking in the field of medicine in the next few decades. Compared to other psychedelics which are not yet legally available, ketamine is an FDA-approved option for mental health treatment. If you’re ready to make changes concerning your mental health, consider Nue Life for ketamine treatment.

Treatment at Nue Life

Nue Life believes in holistic treatment, which means that what happens before and after your ketamine experience is equally as important as the experience itself. We want to ensure you have meaningful takeaways from your experiences and help you establish positive new neural pathways.

That’s why we provide one-on-one health coaching and integration group sessions with each of our programs. We’re here to help map out the mind and body connections in your brain and help you discover the insights that lead to true healing.


Study Shows How Ketamine Reverses Depression—and How its Benefits Could Be Extended | Weill Cornell Medicine

How ketamine relieves symptoms of depression | National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Ketamine Rapidly Improves Cognitive Function Making Those in Suicidal Crisis Less Likely to Harm Themselves | Columbia Psychiatry

Drug Scheduling | DEA.

How Does Ketamine Work Differently from Other Psychedelics? | Psychology Today

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