What is ketamine? Medical professional provides insights

Dec 20, 2023, 3:00 PM | Updated: May 30, 2024, 9:40 am

Yellow pills spill out of a bottle labeled 'ketamine.'...

Ketamine can be administered in a variety of forms. (Canva)


SALT LAKE CITY — According to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner, actor Matthew Perry’s death was related to the effects of ketamine. 

The drug is approved for use in medical settings as a sedative or to treat depression. While recreational use is illegal, it has been used as a “club drug,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  

Legal medical uses

Dr. Paul Thielking, a psychiatrist and the chief scientific officer at Numinus Wellness, said “Ketamine was initially developed in the early 70s as an anesthetic.” It is often used in emergency room settings if a patient needs to be sedated. 

In the early 2000s, however, people discovered it affects mood.

“It turns out, ketamine is actually a rapid-acting, effective anti-depression, treatment and can also help alleviate acute suicidal thoughts,” said Thielking. 

Nowadays, according to the DEA, the drug can be used to help patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Thielking said that its popularity has risen in recent years. Nowadays, several clinics offer it. 

The drug can be administered through several methods. “You can give somebody a pill, you can have a lozenge, you can do it intra nasally with a spray, you can do it IV or a shot in your arm intramuscularly,” according to Thielking. 

Doses are different depending on the use. Thielking said that when ketamine is administered in a mental health treatment setting, the patient receives less. 

Illegal recreational uses

The drug is sometimes used by young people at parties and raves. New York University reported that recreational ketamine use is less common in the U.S. than elsewhere.

Recreational ketamine use has risen in popularity overseas, being dubbed the “UK Teenager’s Drug of Choice” by Vice. 

Ketamine is often “abused for its ability to produce dissociative sensations and hallucinations,” according to the DEA. It is preferred by some because of its short-lasting effects. Unlike the highs provided by LSD or PCP, ketamine only places a user in a dissociative state for 30-60 minutes. 

Ketamine regulation

According to Thielking, the drug isn’t as tightly regulated as one might expect. It is regulated as a Schedule Three drug by the DEA. While a prescription is required for legal purchase, medical supervision during use is not required. 

“You can get ketamine online nowadays, you know, and use it in a very unsupervised, unstructured way,” said Thielking. He added that he does not recommend using it outside of a medically supervised setting. 

According to Thielking, many clinic operators take safety precautions, however, not all of them do. 

“It’s in a little bit of a gray zone, when you get into the regulatory environment, you know, that we’re working in right now,” said Thielking. 

He added that if ketamine is not used carefully and in a safe environment, there are risks. 

“If anybody is looking for help and is thinking about ketamine, I would recommend you go to a clinic that’s doing it properly,” said Thielking. 

Related: Matthew Perry died from effects of drug ketamine, coroner says

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What is ketamine? Medical professional provides insights