Ketamine’s unlikely conversion from rave drug to mental health therapy

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Written By Margonoe Tumindax

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Ketamine being administered via an intravenous drip at a clinic in New York

Victor Llorente/The New York Times/Redux/eyevine

LAST year, to much ado in the press, Prince Harry wrote candidly in his memoir Spare about taking ketamine to help him deal with his mother’s death. He isn’t the only one talking about the substance, which has previously been known mainly as a horse tranquilliser and a psychedelic rave drug. It is hard to keep track of the many celebrities speaking openly about taking ketamine in an effort to improve their mental health.

Across the US, hundreds of clinics have opened to provide intravenous infusions of the drug in a therapeutic setting, a trend that has now reached the UK too. Trailblazing firms, worried about their employees’ mental health, are starting to offer this therapy as a benefit. One even floated the idea of installing a ketamine clinic at its corporate headquarters. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are developing over-the-counter ketamine products such as lozenges and topical creams. The drug has become the most commonly available psychedelic therapy.

That might sound like good news given the mounting evidence that ketamine can treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. Yet its use in treating mental health conditions is still novel and many uncertainties remain. Illegal use is rising too, perhaps influenced by its popularity as a therapeutic.

All this means it is time to ask whether ketamine really can soothe mental health problems, how it works and whether there are any risks to its new popularity. Psychiatrist …

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