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Exploring the Use of Ketamine for OCD Treatment
Mental Health

Exploring the Use of Ketamine for OCD Treatment

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on January 25, 2023
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3 min

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a challenging mental health condition, and severe OCD can be debilitating. Ketamine is one of the non-conventional treatments for this condition, but can it help people manage their symptoms? This article explores ketamine therapy and its potential role in treating OCD.

Ketamine for OCD
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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors that the person cannot control. For example, people with OCD might have intense germ obsessions and compulsively wash and rewash their hands frequently.

OCD symptoms typically occur in early adulthood but can begin earlier in children and teenagers. Severe OCD can profoundly interfere with your life and your daily activities. The good news is that there are treatments to help you manage the condition and regain control.

This article discusses the use of ketamine to treat this mental health disorder.

Ketamine for OCD: Does It Help?

Ketamine can provide rapid treatment for people with OCD. It can produce noticeable effects quickly and reduce or eliminate OCD symptoms. A person might only try ketamine therapy if they have not found significant relief from conventional OCD treatments, which include psychotherapy and antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Unlike most traditional antidepressants, ketamine does not affect serotonin levels. However, it is not entirely clear how ketamine works for OCD. It may reduce compulsive behaviors and calm intense obsessions and intrusive thoughts by triggering temporary short-term amnesia.

More research is necessary to determine the safety and effectiveness of using ketamine for people with OCD symptoms. It is unclear exactly what ketamine does to the brain in such cases. Furthermore, it carries unpleasant side effects and the risk of ketamine addiction.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic medication used in medical and veterinary settings for humans and animals. It is approved by the FDA for general anesthesia on its own or in combination with other medicines, providing pain relief and inducing loss of consciousness.

Dissociative anesthetics, or dissociatives, are a class of psychedelic drugs. These drugs cause people to feel dissociated or detached from their bodies or the world around them. It can cause hallucinations, changes in thoughts, immobility, sedation, and amnesia while under the influence.

Ketamine comes in liquid or powder form. It is taken orally or administered intravenously with ketamine infusions in a hospital or clinical setting.

What Is Ketamine Used for?

Ketamine is used by doctors in controlled medical practice for human anesthesia. It causes sedation and reduced pain sensation during medical procedures where muscle relaxation is unnecessary. Additionally, it is used by veterinarians for inducing anesthesia in animals.

Ketamine is only FDA-approved for general anesthesia. However, it is sometimes used off-label for chronic pain management, treatment-resistant depression, and anxiety disorder. There is, however, concern over the off-label use of ketamine treatment for psychiatric disorders.

Due to its dissociative effects and ability to induce hallucinations, ketamine is often used illegally for recreational use. It can distort sight and sound, and some users report having an out-of-body experience after taking this drug. The effects are generally short-lived.

How Does Ketamine Work?

Ketamine hydrochloride is a nonbarbiturate dissociative anesthetic. This drug is fast-acting and works by altering different chemicals in the brain, causing distortions and a disconnection from reality. It decreases central sensitization and produces significant anesthesia and pain relief.

Researchers need to test ketamine further to understand how it works for people with OCD symptoms.

Side Effects of Ketamine

While ketamine might help provide relief for OCD symptoms, it does have several unpleasant side effects. Keep in mind ketamine is only considered safe for use when a person takes the drug in the dose prescribed by their doctor. High doses can cause an overdose, resulting in long-term health issues and fatality in some cases.

The most common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Double vision (diplopia)
  • A sense of unease (dysphoria)
  • Feeling paranoid
  • Hallucinogenic effects

Other adverse effects may include:

  • Amnesia
  • Psychosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Impaired coordination and judgment
  • Respiratory complications
  • Seizures
  • Urinary tract issues, including ulcerative cystitis

Certain groups should avoid using ketamine entirely, including those with alcoholism and uncontrolled high blood pressure. Always talk to your doctor about any conditions you have.

A Word From a Psychologist

OCD can be a debilitating disorder. Constant obsessions and compulsions impact daily lives and can make everyday tasks difficult. Those suffering from OCD symptoms should seek advice from a medical health professional to discuss the best treatment options available.

The most effective treatment for OCD includes psychological therapy, which works to help you combat compulsions by changing your behavior. Medication, usually SSRIs, might be prescribed to those suffering from severe OCD to shift the balance of chemicals in the brain.

OCD is generally treated with a combination of talk therapy and medications. The most common forms of therapy are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP). Those partaking in psychotherapy may notice progress fairly quickly.

CBT helps you manage your symptoms by altering how you think and behave. ERP therapy encourages you to face obsessions and intrusive thoughts without giving in to compulsions. It’s about making choices that help you better control and overcome OCD attacks.

SSRIs may take several months to show results. Not everyone will find significant relief from these medications and may still experience obsessions and compulsions. In these cases, your doctor might refer you for an alternative to the current treatments, like ketamine infusions.

Ketamine infusions are not a first-line therapy option for OCD, but they may be considered when all else fails. Talk to your doctor about whether this might be a possibility for you. In the meantime, practice self-care and try to manage anxiety and stress to decrease symptoms.

Try relaxation techniques like yoga, daily stretching, and going for morning walks.

Conclusion

So, can ketamine for those with OCD help?

Ketamine does show promise for the treatment of OCD. While it won’t cure the disorder, it may result in fewer or no symptoms. It is, however, less studied than other medicines, such as antidepressants, which are usually prescribed for patients with OCD alongside psychotherapy.

Talk to your doctor about the possible use of ketamine for managing your mental health issues. Remember, you should never use this drug recreationally to manage your OCD symptoms. Ketamine is a controlled substance and is illegal to use without medical supervision.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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