Ketamine-Assisted Therapy (KAT) refers to the use of ketamine in conjunction with facilitated therapy. KAT is a proven treatment for many mental health disorders, including major depression, PTSD, generalized anxiety and substance abuse.
Ketamine itself is a dissociative medicine that quiets sensory input and can give people a temporary change in their mental perspective. Its original use was as a surgical anesthetic, for which it received FDA approval in 1970. Since then it’s been used worldwide as an anesthetic, has an outstanding safety record and is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.
Over time, therapists noticed that depressed patients who were given ketamine during surgery would find their depression symptoms improved. This prompted a series of scientific studies supporting the use of ketamine for the rapid treatment of severe depression, especially in those with suicidal urges. These investigations led to the development of an expensive variant called esketamine – approved by the FDA for treatment resistant depression in 2019.
Interest in this effect led to further research, which found that ketamine used in much lower, non-anaesthetic doses was also effective as a fast-acting antidepressant. Further studies, and a growing body of direct clinical experience now show that ketamine, when used in concert with psychotherapy and a guided "integrating" process, can greatly prolong the therapeutic impact of ketamine for a wide range of hard-to-treat mental health conditions.
Today, KAT is in high demand, as people seek out alternatives to standard treatments that only help a subset of people suffering with mental health issues, even if it means paying for it out of pocket. KAT is not typically covered by insurance, making it inaccessible for most people.
KAT involves the use of ketamine to enhance and deepen the therapeutic process, and the use of psychotherapy to amplify and prolong the curative effects of ketamine. In low doses, ketamine serves as an adjunct to psychotherapy, providing an opportunity for the temporary softening of psychological defenses, resulting in deeper self-reflection and psychotherapeutic processing. Together, these components help patients break long-standing, deeply ingrained patterns of thought and emotion characteristic of many mental health conditions. In this way, KAT can result in patients developing new ways of thinking, feeling, perceiving and responding to life events and circumstances.
Psychotherapists find ketamine can be an extremely helpful aid, making it easier for patients to talk about memories and emotions too painful or difficult to discuss otherwise.
Christi Myers is CEO of Flow Integrative, the clinic providing the Enthea KAT benefit to Dr. Bronner’s employees and their families (see one-year results from the work with Dr. Bronner’s). She notes that most of those seeking this treatment had first tried more conventional therapies, including antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. “But those treatments don’t get to the root of the problem in the way that we are seeing with ketamine-assisted therapy.”
Neuroimaging studies reiterate the effects seen in ketamine treatment. Specifically, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) reveals a system of interrelated brain structures called the ‘default mode network’ that operates when we are actively monitoring and making decisions according to ingrained patterns – aka our “programming.“ These studies have shown that ketamine temporarily relaxes this default mode network. As the ketamine experience recedes, the new experiences, new information and new thinking are re-integrated in surprising ways that affect individuals’ default mode network and the rigid patterns associated with it. KAT can result in a rewriting of the patient’s sense of self and the world in profound, lasting, and beneficial ways.
Unlike currently used medicines such as SSRIs and anti-anxiety medications, ketamine has a unique “neuroplastic“ effect, meaning it puts the brain in an unusually fresh, open, and flexible state, freed of long established assumptions and ways of seeing things and experiencing ourselves, others, and the world around us. Brain imaging studies suggest that this effect induces qualities of brain function seen in infants -- a state freed from established biases and preconceptions, a state of openness and curiosity, unburdened by anxiety or depressive thoughts."
“By exploiting this neuroplastic effect, and combining with gently guided talk therapy, many are finding lasting relief from depression, anxiety, PTSD and addictive disorders,” reported Dan Rome, MD, Enthea’s chief medical officer. “Therapists are using ketamine to better help patients get to the root of their problems, not just suppress their symptoms.”
Ketamine-Assisted Therapy is a new benefit option for employers to help combat mental health issues among their workforce. It is demonstrably superior to current treatment models for many people and it’s more cost-effective than current alternatives.