Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Power of Ketamine

FEATURED
October 6, 2022

Nue Life

Nue Life
10 MIN READ

Top Points

  • There are many types of psychedelic medicines, each with its own unique properties.
  • Ketamine is a dissociative psychedelic originally created as an anesthetic.
  • Ketamine therapy has shown promising results in the treatment of depression, PTSD, OCD, and addiction.

When you think of psychedelics, your mind might turn to their recreational use in the 1960s.

In recent years, scientists have once again begun to study what these powerful medicines can do. In particular, psychedelics like ketamine have been shown to provide substantial relief to people who struggle with major mental health conditions.

So let’s take a moment to learn about the history of psychedelic medicines, from their indigenous roots to how they’re being used today. This type of treatment may be far different than what you’ve come to understand through pop culture.

What Are Psychedelics?

First things first, let’s define what psychedelics are. Psychedelics are loosely defined as a class of drugs that induce altered thoughts and sensory perceptions.

There are several different types of psychedelic medicine, each with its own origin story and ways of affecting the mind. Let’s go through some of the major psychedelics to illuminate the scope of this type of medicine.

LSD

LSD is one of the most well-known psychedelics. LSD is a hallucinogen made from lysergic acid which is found in a fungus that grows on rye and other grains, so it is naturally occurring. LSD, recreationally known as ‘acid,’ can be consumed in many different forms, but it comes in a pill when used medically.

Psilocybin

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound found in certain mushrooms found in tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. People often consume these mushrooms raw, dried, or even brewed into a tea to drink.

In a medical context, psilocybin can be used to treat stress, and studies have shown that it is fairly effective. Psilocybin is also being used to treat addictions.

MDMA

MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is more commonly referred to as ‘ecstasy’. MDMA fits into a subclass of psychedelic substances called entactogens, which act as a serotonin-releasing agent in addition to many of the hallucinogenic effects.

Because of its effect on serotonin levels, MDMA has been effectively used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a ceremonial medicine of the Amazonian people. It is consumed as a tea and utilizes DMT (N-dimethyltryptamine, which is chemically related to psilocybin) boiled with the ayahuasca vine and extract from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.

Psychedelic studies show that long-term drinkers of this tea are less likely to become addicted to a substance, and they perform better psychologically with age, so it stands to reason that this tea could help treat people with addictions.

DMT

Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is the active chemical compound in the ayahuasca plant. It is chemically related to psilocybin, so it could potentially be used to treat symptoms of stress and tension, but there are limited clinical trials on DMT’s effects on mental health. Synthetic DMT for illegal recreational use can be created in a lab, but it is not recommended.

Ketamine

Ketamine was originally created as an anesthetic for use in both animals and humans. Ketamine is a dissociative psychedelic, meaning that it can potentially cause the user to have an out-of-body experience.

Ketamine has been approved for decades as an anesthetic, and a derivative of it was the first psychedelic drug to be approved by the FDA to help support treatment of depression. This form is a nasal spray containing only part of the ketamine compound, called S-ketamine.

When Were Psychedelics First Used In Medicine?

Psychedelics have been used in indigenous medicine for centuries and it’s in these traditions that Nue Life finds much inspiration.

Nue Life seeks to combine the experience of traditional psychedelic rituals that seek to offer wisdom and insight with modern innovations to make treatment accessible and safe for at-home use. This desire has led us to pursue ketamine therapy for major mental health conditions.

We believe that ketamine therapy is most transformative when it takes the whole person into account. As such, our programs include health coaching and integration groups as well as comprehensive dosage and safety protocols.

Formalized Medicine

Despite their common use throughout history, psychedelics only entered modern Western medicine in the 1950s. During this time, psychologists and psychiatrists widely used LSD in research and clinical practice for psychotherapy.

Because of its widespread, unregulated use, after the mid-60s psychedelic research was stifled by the government. The widespread use of illegal psychedelics for recreational purposes during the 1960s stigmatized the drugs, making them fall further out of favor with the medical establishment.

When Did They Become Popular Again?

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and research in the realm of psychedelics has become possible again. Around the year 2006, the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University gained approval to research psilocybin.

This sparked a renewal in the study of psychedelics worldwide. Since then, many studies have been performed, analyzing the potential medical benefits of psychedelics in psychotherapy.

Can Psychedelics Really Help?

The short answer is a resounding yes!

Psychedelics have been studied a lot over the past two decades, and research shows that there are many benefits in the realm of mental health that can be gained from psychedelics.

In particular, ketamine has been the center of a lot of research. Ketamine was originally used as an anesthetic but has slowly evolved in its application. Multiple studies have shown its efficacy in treating depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

How It Works

Ketamine has a number of different effects on the brain that are thought to help psychotherapy. By understanding how ketamine works, you can better understand what it can provide for you.

The most significant effect has to do with specific receptors in the brain. Ketamine binds to the NMDA receptors in your brain. By binding to these receptors, ketamine increases the amount of the neurotransmitter glutamate.

Glutamate works its way into the space between your neurons, where it activates another receptor called the AMPA receptor. This causes the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which initiates a process called synaptogenesis. This means that your neurons are able to communicate with each other on new pathways.

Essentially, ketamine works to increase your brain’s neuroplasticity, weaken the hold harmful pathways have on your brain, and create the opportunity for new and healthier pathways to form.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the current clinical applications of ketamine.

What Conditions Can Ketamine Help?

Ketamine has been shown to help in treating depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It also shows promise in treating addiction and other mental health conditions.

PTSD

Ketamine has proven to be a powerful alternative to medicine normally used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. During a recent study on patients with PTSD, scientists compared the effectiveness of ketamine and midazolam, a common drug used for PTSD.

The results were astounding. While only one-fifth of midazolam users reported positive effects, two-thirds of ketamine users reported that it helped them with their symptoms. That means that ketamine was over twice as effective at treating PTSD as the traditional option.

OCD

Ketamine has also been shown to see positive effects on people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Through its effect on the brain and its neural pathways, ketamine is able to reduce the compulsions in the brain that are caused by OCD.

For many people, ketamine has allowed them to live everyday lives free of their compulsions. Patients report a reduction of intrusive thoughts and being unable to have “OCD thoughts” even if they tried.

Depression

Depression is the most common illness treated with ketamine, and it has seen the best results in clinical studies. Again, through its ability to create new neural pathways, ketamine can release the hold that depression has on your brain.

Ketamine is especially effective for treatment-resistant depression (TRD). For many people, traditional antidepressants just don’t seem to work. In fact, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common type of antidepressant, yet SSRIs are ineffective for about 40% of people.

Ketamine has been shown to have strong, positive effects on people with treatment-resistant depression. This is the purpose for which a derivative of ketamine, esketamine, was FDA approved. Nue Life recently published its first peer-reviewed study that shows that sublingual ketamine (the protocol used at Nue Life) helped over 60% of its patients with treatment-resistant depression improve.

Stress and Tension

Ketamine is also effective for the treatment of stress and tension. Long-term stress can alter the structure of your brain. This happens because of atrophy and the loss of neurons in the limbic region of the brain. The limbic region regulates your emotions and memory.

This means that it causes your neurons to go unprotected, damaged, and even destroyed. Ketamine works as a neuroprotective agent. By protecting the synapses of your brain, ketamine can reduce the effects of stress and restore your brain’s ability to protect neurons.

How Is Ketamine Different From Other Psychedelic Treatments?

Ketamine is a bit unique among psychedelic therapies. It differs in a couple of different ways.

First, ketamine differs from drugs like LSD in that ketamine is a dissociative treatment — not just a hallucinogen. This means that ketamine can provide a different psychedelic experience compared to regular hallucinogens. It’s important to note that every individual’s psychedelic experiences will vary.

Many people report that in a ketamine-induced dissociative state, they are able to see themselves from an outside perspective, which helps them view their life and their challenges in a more productive way.

Ketamine can deliver an out-of-body experience. This experience can be almost spiritual in nature, and patients have reported that it helps them find meaning and purpose.

Second, certain psychedelic treatments, like MDMA, are effective because they increase the serotonin levels in your brain. Ketamine works differently. Ketamine targets the neurons and synapses in your brain, and it’s effective at promoting neuroplasticity so you can form new, more positive neural pathways.

Conclusion

So now you understand the healing power of ketamine.

We walked through the history of psychedelic drugs and the different types that are out there. Then we discovered what ketamine can do, and how it works to benefit you. You may be asking, “What’s next?”

If this type of treatment seems like it could improve your quality of life, Nue Life’s ketamine therapy programs are here to help you take control of your mental health with the power of safe, legal, and effective psychedelic medicine.

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.

Sources:

Back to the future | Psychedelic drugs in psychiatry | Harvard Health Publishing

Depression: How effective are antidepressants? | InformedHealth.org | NCBI Bookshelf

Hallucinogens DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse

Ketamine for major depression: New tool, new questions | Harvard Health Publishing

Ketamine for PTSD: Well, Isn’t That Special | American Journal of Psychiatry

Neuronal damage and protection in the pathophysiology and treatment of psychiatric illness: stress and depression | National Institutes of Health

Psychedelic medicine: a re-emerging therapeutic paradigm | National Institutes of Health  

Why is depression more prevalent in women? | National Institutes of Health

Randomized Controlled Crossover Trial of Ketamine in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder | Neuropsychopharmacology

Antidepressant Efficacy of Ketamine in Treatment-Resistant Major Depression | American Journal of Psychiatry

Ayahuasca vs. DMT | Healing Maps

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