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Does Ketamine Therapy Get You High? Separating Fact from Fiction.

July 7, 2024

Does Ketamine Therapy Get You High

Ketamine is a medication with quite a journey behind it, and lately, it has emerged as a promising treatment for some tough-to-treat mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even chronic pain. As more people hear about ketamine therapy, I often get asked, “Does ketamine therapy get you high?” It’s a totally fair question!

Does Ketamine Therapy Get You High?

I always try to help my patients understand that there’s a big difference between how ketamine is used in a doctor’s office and how it might be used recreationally.

When doctors use ketamine as a treatment, it’s in a safe, controlled environment, with careful dosing and monitoring. We aim to take advantage of the drug’s rapid-acting antidepressant properties while minimizing risks and adverse effects.

On the other hand, recreational ketamine use often involves higher doses and is often mixed with other substances. That’s when people can run into problems.

So, while it’s natural to be concerned, remember that ketamine therapy is designed to help you, not to get you high. It’s all about finding a path to feeling better and living your best life.

What Is Ketamine Therapy?

Ketamine therapy uses the drug ketamine in clinical settings to treat mental health conditions. Traditionally used for decades in higher doses as a dissociative anesthetic, low doses in controlled settings have been found to be effective for mental health conditions. Ketamine infusion therapy and nasal spray are common methods. Ketamine works on NMDA receptors, providing relief for treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder under medical supervision.

We know starting therapy can feel overwhelming, especially when using ketamine as a catalyst for therapeutic breakthroughs. At Field Trip Health, we’re here to support you every step of the way. We combine ketamine with caring psychotherapy to help you on your healing journey.

We offer different ways to take ketamine, and we’ll work with you to find the method that feels most comfortable:

  1. Intramuscular (IM) Injections: Ketamine is directly injected into a muscle for rapid absorption.
  2. Oral Administration: Take ketamine by mouth in the form of tablets.
  3. Nasal Spray: A convenient option where ketamine is administered as a simple nasal spray.

Our team is here to explain everything, answer your questions, and make sure you feel safe and cared for throughout your treatment. 

Ketamine Therapy at Field Trip Health
Field Trip Health Clinic – Vancouver Location

Patient Experiences During Ketamine Infusions

During ketamine infusion therapy, patients commonly report sensations of lightness, floating, and a profound sense of calmness. Some individuals may experience mild dissociative effects, feeling a temporary disconnection from their surroundings. This can lead to a sense of floating or being in a dream-like state. These sensations can be pleasant and relaxing, allowing patients to gain a more objective perspective on their lives.

In rare cases, patients may encounter more intense psychedelic experiences, such as vivid dreams, hallucinations, or a feeling of “ego dissolution”. Some report heightened sensitivity to sounds or music. It’s important to note that these perceptions are typically mild and typically short-lived in a therapeutic setting, unlike the intense hallucinations that can be associated with recreational ketamine use.

Emotionally, many patients describe a sense of calm and detachment from negative thoughts. This emotional distance can provide a new perspective on long-standing issues, potentially contributing to the therapeutic benefits of ketamine for depression and anxiety. Some individuals also report feelings of euphoria or profound insights, though these experiences are carefully monitored and managed by our mental health professionals to ensure they contribute positively to the treatment process.

During ketamine therapy, patients typically experience a mild dissociative state, which is quite different from the effects of traditional antidepressants. This altered state of consciousness, induced by sub-anesthetic doses of ketamine, is believed to play a crucial role in its therapeutic benefits. The dissociative experience allows patients to disconnect temporarily from their habitual thought patterns and emotional states, potentially facilitating new perspectives and neural connections.

It’s important to note that the ketamine experience in a therapeutic setting is carefully controlled and monitored. The dosage and administration are precisely managed to achieve the optimal therapeutic effect while minimizing potential risks. This controlled environment is vastly different from recreational ketamine use, ensuring patient safety and maximizing the treatment’s efficacy.

Ketamine Therapy vs. Recreational Use

The key difference between therapeutic and recreational ketamine use lies in the dosage, administration method, and controlled environment with proper medical oversight.

Ketamine Therapy vs. Recreational Use

Medical uses

As an anesthetic, ketamine induces a state of dissociation, disconnecting the mind from the body and external stimuli. This unique property allows many patients at higher doses to undergo surgical procedures without experiencing pain and in some cases without even forming memories of the event. 

Beyond its anesthetic applications, at lower doses ketamine has shown remarkable promise as an antidepressant. Unlike traditional antidepressants, which can take weeks to exert their effects, ketamine has demonstrated the ability to alleviate depression symptoms within hours of administration. This rapid onset of action is particularly valuable for individuals with severe, treatment-resistant depression who have not responded to other medications. Not only that but unlike traditional medications, ketamine treatments for mental health indications are administered generally twice weekly at most rather than daily like traditional antidepressants.

In ketamine-assisted therapy, patients receive carefully controlled doses through intramuscular injection, intranasal administration or sublingual dissolving tablets administered by trained medical professionals. These doses are significantly lower than those used recreationally, and the treatment takes place in a supervised clinical environment.

Ketamine’s antidepressant properties are believed to stem from its action on the central nervous system as an NMDA receptor antagonist. By blocking these receptors, ketamine triggers a cascade of events that ultimately leads to increased neuroplasticity and synaptic connectivity in the brain. This mechanism of action sets ketamine apart from other antidepressants and may explain its ability to provide swift relief from depressive symptoms.

Recreational uses

While ketamine has strong medical applications, it has been known to be used as a recreational “party drug”. At higher doses, ketamine can produce dissociative and psychoactive drug effects, leading to altered perceptions, hallucinations, and a sense of detachment from reality. 

These dissociative and psychedelic properties have made ketamine sometimes used as a recreational “party drug” for users seeking to experience altered states of consciousness. However, this use comes with significant risks, including the potential for ketamine abuse, cognitive impairment, and physical harm due to ketamine abuse, unregulated dosages, and even impurities.

It is crucial to distinguish between the controlled, medical use of ketamine under the supervision of a trained medical professional and its recreational use, which can be dangerous and illegal. When administered in a clinical setting, such as in ketamine treatment for depression, the dosage is carefully regulated, and patients are monitored closely to ensure safety and maximize therapeutic benefits.

The Importance of Clinical Settings

Ensuring patient safety is of utmost importance during ketamine treatment. Trained medical professionals closely monitor patients throughout the infusion process, tracking vital signs, level of consciousness, and potential side effects. This careful supervision allows for prompt intervention.

Side effects of ketamine infusions may include temporary dizziness, nausea, or headaches. Doctors are equipped to manage these side effects and provide appropriate support to ensure patient comfort.

Ketamine Therapy - Clinical Settings
Field Trip Health Clinic – Vancouver Location

At Field Trip Health, we add a layer of therapy to the ketamine medicine experience. We ensure the patient’s mindset (Set) and the patient setting (Setting) are optimized to ensure a proper therapeutic experience. We then have a psychotherapist to guide patients through and work through any psychological material to help the patients achieve breakthroughs. By prioritizing patient safety and leveraging the therapeutic benefits of ketamine, this innovative approach is providing new hope to those seeking relief from their symptoms.

At Field Trip Health, we adhere to strict medical protocols and guidelines to maintain the highest standards of care. Our approach includes:

  1. Comprehensive pre-treatment assessment: Before administering ketamine, we conduct thorough evaluations to ensure patient suitability and safety. This includes reviewing medical history, current medications, and performing a mental status examination.
  2. Physician oversight:  Administration is done by a qualified nurse. A qualified physician is always either on-site or on-call during ketamine administration. This ensures immediate medical support if needed.
  3. Specialized nursing care: Our nurses are specially trained in mental health and are equipped to perform vital sign checks before and after treatment. They are also certified in Basic Life Support (BLS) and follow standard critical care practices in the unlikely event of medical instability. We rarely have medical interventions, and if there are normally it’s nausea. We also have AED machines on site as a safety precaution.
  4. Precise dosage control: We carefully calculate and administer ketamine doses based on individual patient factors, aiming to achieve the optimal therapeutic effect while minimizing potential side effects. Normally weight-based dosing combined with some other factors. For instance, patients with certain types of anxiety may be prescribed half of the standard weight based dose to start
  5. Continuous monitoring: Throughout the treatment, patients are closely monitored for any adverse reactions. The incidence of adverse reactions is low. Typically if there is at all, it is nausea, for which we may offer medication if needed. We have established medical directives for managing potential side effects and administering rescue medication if necessary.
  6. Post-treatment care: After each session, patients undergo a recovery period where they are monitored before being cleared to leave the clinic. We also ensure they have a companion to get them home safely

This meticulous approach to ketamine treatment administration ensures that Field Trip Health patients receive the full therapeutic benefits of the treatment in a safe, controlled environment. By prioritizing patient safety and following strict medical protocols, we aim to provide the most effective and responsible ketamine treatments possible.

Therapeutic Benefits of Ketamine Therapy

One of the most remarkable aspects of ketamine therapy is its rapid-acting antidepressant effects. Unlike traditional antidepressants, which can take weeks or even months to take effect, ketamine has been shown to provide relief from depressive symptoms within hours or days of treatment. This swift action is particularly valuable for individuals experiencing severe or Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD).

Treatment-resistant depression is a persistent and difficult to treat form of depression where patients do not respond to at least two different antidepressants and often fail traditional psychotherapy sessions. This condition requires alternative approaches, like ketamine-assisted therapy, to improve mental health under medical supervision.

Therapeutic Benefits of Ketamine Therapy

Clinical trials have consistently demonstrated the efficacy of ketamine therapy in treating a range of mental health conditions. For individuals with TRD, ketamine-assisted psychotherapy has been found to provide significant and lasting improvements in depressive symptoms. Similarly, studies have shown that ketamine treatment can rapidly reduce symptoms of PTSD, offering hope to those who have struggled to find relief through other treatments.

It’s important to note that while ketamine treatment offers immense potential, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The therapeutic benefits of ketamine therapy may vary from person to person, and ongoing research continues to explore the optimal dosing and administration protocols. However, for many individuals, ketamine therapy represents a breakthrough in the treatment of mental health conditions, providing a path towards healing and improved quality of life.

For those struggling with depression symptoms, anxiety, or PTSD, ketamine therapy may be worth considering. Consulting with reputable clinics like Field Trip Health can provide valuable guidance and support in navigating ketamine treatments.

Clinical Research and Ketamine Therapy Success Rates

Over the past two decades, numerous clinical trials have investigated the efficacy of ketamine in treating mental health conditions. One of the most significant studies, conducted by researchers at Yale University in 2000, found that intravenous ketamine infusions produced rapid antidepressant effects in patients with major depression symptoms. This groundbreaking finding paved the way for further exploration of ketamine’s therapeutic potential.

Subsequent studies have consistently demonstrated ketamine’s ability to provide swift relief from depressive symptoms, often within hours of administration. A 2006 study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) replicated and expanded upon the Yale findings, with 71% of participants reporting significant improvement in their depression symptoms after receiving ketamine re-infusions.

Recent research has also highlighted ketamine’s efficacy in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. A 2023 meta-analysis found that ketamine therapy reduced PTSD symptoms as early as one day of treatment, offering hope to those struggling with the debilitating effects of trauma.

The success rates of ketamine therapy for various mental health conditions are impressive. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that after 10 ketamine re-infusions, the response rate was 72%, and the remission rate was 38%. For those who were having thoughts of hurting themselves or even considering suicide, there was a big change too. After just six weeks, these scary and painful thoughts had decreased by half. This is a remarkable achievement, considering that these individuals had not responded to traditional antidepressant medications.

Ketamine’s rapid-acting properties make it particularly valuable for patients experiencing suicidal ideation. Studies have shown that ketamine re-infusions can quickly reduce suicidal thoughts, providing a crucial window of opportunity for further intervention and support.

Beyond treating depression, ketamine therapy has demonstrated effectiveness in treating anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder depressive episodes, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), ​​alcohol-use disorder, and chronic pain. While success rates may vary depending on the specific condition and individual factors, the overall trend points towards ketamine as a promising treatment option for a wide range of mental health challenges.

Reveal your mental health profile – Take the Quiz


Is ketamine therapy safe for depression?

Ketamine therapy is generally safe for depression treatment when administered under medical supervision. Clinical trials show it provides rapid antidepressant effects, especially for treatment-resistant depression. However, potential side effects necessitate careful monitoring by mental health professionals.

Is ketamine addictive?

Ketamine addiction exists – there are ‘street abusers’ that would have what is classically called an addiction – tolerance, dependence, and cravings. But given in low doses in controlled settings, ie when given in the mental setting, it has not been documented in clinical trials to show those same features.

What are the side effects of using ketamine?

Negative side effects of ketamine therapy include dissociation, dizziness, nausea, increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate. These side effects are typically short-lived, lasting a few hours post-treatment. In a recreational setting, ketamine can be unsafe given potential for abuse and lack of clinical oversight.

Does ketamine therapy cause a psychedelic experience?

Yes, ketamine therapy can induce a psychedelic experience characterized by dissociation, altered perception, and a sense of detachment from reality. These effects can be described by some as feeling “high” but are controlled and monitored in a clinical setting to ensure safety and therapeutic benefits. The experience of ketamine is different than a euphoria or experience with a substance of abuse like cocaine or an opioid. It is a different class of medicine than these other commonly known substances of abuse

How long do the antidepressant effects of ketamine last?

The antidepressant effects of a single ketamine treatment can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. A series of infusions may provide longer-lasting relief, and some patients may require a periodic booster therapy session to maintain the therapeutic benefits.

About the Author
Dr. Mario Nucci

Dr. Mario Nucci MD CCFP is a licensed Family Physician with a passion for mental health and the development of new therapies. He is actively engaged in research with a faculty associate professorship at Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and research collaborations with the University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, Lakehead University, Concordia University and Vancouver Island University.

He is the founder of Bay and Algoma Health Centre in 2019, a walk-in and addiction medicine clinic. He founded the Canadian Centre for Psychedelic Healing in 2019, now operating as Field Trip Health, providing cutting edge mental health care in 6 cities across Canada and growing.