There is a global mental health revolution underway, which has ketamine at its forefront.

Approved for use in the UK and available in Awakn Life Science’s first-of-its-kind Bristol clinic, it’s one of a range of psychedelic medicines that also includes MDMA and psilocybin.

“Ketamine, when combined with psychotherapy, can benefit people with depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, eating disorders and addictions to multiple substances including alcohol,” says Awakn’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ben Sessa. 

But what exactly is ketamine; how does it work in relation to those conditions; and how can you access it right now in a safe, supportive environment?

Read on for the answers to these and more questions, plus all the other essential facts about ketamine and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

Overview

Ketamine is primarily known as a dissociative anaesthesia, which induces a trance-like state and provides pain relief and sedation.

Whilst illegal in most countries without a prescription, it’s been widely approved as an anaesthetic in hospitals and other medical settings across the world. It has relatively few side effects, which makes it ideal for children, people allergic to other anaesthetics and those whose medical history isn’t fully known. 

Administered in significantly lower doses, it has proven to be a highly successful adjunct to the psychotherapeutic treatment of a wide range of mental health conditions.

History

Synthesised for the first time in 1962, ketamine gained United States Federal Drug Authority approval in 1970 and was widely used by their military as a surgical anaesthetic during the Vietnam War. 

In the 1980s, it became associated with rave culture and continues to be used as an illicit club drug. 

In 2016, the Ketamine for Reduction of Alcoholic Relapse (KARE) study, which was led by Awakn Head of Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy, Professor Celia Morgan, confirmed its efficacy in delivering positive patient outcomes.

In 2019, a ketamine-like drug, Esketamine, was licensed in the UK as a treatment for severe depression. 

Last year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was among the backers of the successful campaign to reform the drug laws in Oregon where, as a result, it’s now easier for people to access ketamine and other psychedelic medicines. California, Florida, Connecticut, Vermont, Washington and Iowa are among the latest American states to contemplate similar legislation.

The first clinic offering ketamine-assisted psychotherapy in the UK is being opened by Awakn Life Sciences in March 2021 in Bristol, with nineteen more being rolled out across the UK and the European Union by 2024.

Effects

Ketamine is what’s known as an NMDA receptor antagonist, which means it has anaesthetic, dissociative and hallucinogenic effects. Inhibitions are lowered and insights gained, which can be built on in non-drug psychotherapy sessions.

These effects can all be precisely controlled by the level of the dosage given, and the therapeutic support provided.

How It Works

A common trigger for mental health conditions and relapse is low-mood. Standard SSRIs like Prozac take a few weeks to work whereas as ketamine is a rapid-adapting antidpressent, the benefits of which can be felt almost immediately. 

“Ketamine induces an altered state of consciousness which, when honed alongside their supportive psychotherapy course, enables patients to tackle the rigid narratives that are maintaining their mental illness,” Dr. Ben Sessa explains. “They’ve become experts at ‘not going there’. What psychedelics offer is an opportunity to break that ‘stuckness’ or barrier, which results in high levels of treatment resistance.”

Ketamine as a Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

The KARE study found that currently available treatments have a high relapse rate of 70% within a year. Ketamine, combined with psychotherapy, reduces the one-year relapse rates by over 40%. 

Customised Treatment Programme

The treatment consists of eleven sessions of outpatient therapy over a nine-week course. Clients will not be required to stay overnight for any sessions. Four of the therapy sessions will involve being injected in the arm muscle with a solution of ketamine, the effects of which will be felt after about five minutes. The dose will vary across the four drug sessions depending on your clinical progress and in collaboration with yourself. Some people may desire or require higher doses. Others may wish to stay on lower doses. You will have control over how the therapy progresses.

The Length of Sessions

Non-drug sessions last 50 minutes, and the drug-assisted ones two hours. Afterwards clients are welcome to spend as much time as they want in our relaxation area before heading home.

Ketamine Training 

As well as offering clients ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, Awakn’s Bristol, UK clinic will also serve as an educational hub.

The first of the two training options being offered is an online module-based course, which anyone can sign up to and collect CPD points as they carry it out.

The second is more for clinicians wanting to become psychedelic therapists themselves, and comprises the online modules plus face-to-face tutorial teaching and role-play sessions with Dr. Ben Sessa and Awakn’s Lead Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Laurie Higbed.

Books About Ketamine

Dr. Ben Sessa’s The Psychedelic Renaissance is considered a key work on the subject, as is his Awakn colleague Professor David Nutt’s Drugs Without The Hot Air.

What They Say

The Chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, Crispin Blunt MP: “The case for engaging in the research into psychedelics is a blinding glimpse of the obvious. We’re talking about millions of people suffering with depression – the potential here is absolutely enormous.”

Professor Celia Morgan on the KARE study: “We had a man who’d been drinking seven bottles of wine a night reporting being sober for the first time in thirty years, which is an incredibly powerful testimony.”

Awakn Chief Science Officer, Dr. Shaun McNulty: “We’re not talking about something that’s a little bit cheaper or a little bit faster; this is a paradigm shift in the way strong positive outcomes can be delivered to patients.”

Professor David Nutt: “The outcomes these psychedelic medicines offer are incredible. After fifteen years of rigorous research and trials, we’re now at the point where ketamine is a proven treatment for depression.”

Dr. Ben Sessa: “If you look at any of the studies over the last ten years, they’ve all been stupendous. Not just ‘slightly worked’ but ‘blows out the water the current best treatments’.”