NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — It was known as an anesthetic in the 1970s, and later a party drug known as Special K.
Today Ketamine is being used to treat some mental illnesses and even substance abuse addictions.
Dr. Daniel Barton is a Nashville psychiatrist. His goal is to make sure his patients receive the best care possible, and he says he's doing that with help from ketamine.
"Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic with psychedelic properties, essentially it’s an anti-depressant."
Barton opened his practice, the Nashville Ketamine Center to offer ketamine therapy to patients with treatment-resistant depression.
"Ketamine works much quicker than other medicines, and so it’s real effective treatment when a patient’s been suffering for a very long time," Barton said.
Despite the negative stigma behind the medicine, research and doctors say used in small doses, administered by a medical professional along with therapy, it can help treat depression.
"Having done this in six in a half years, I have yet to see one person get addicted to ketamine," Barton said.
The FDA approved the medicine in the anesthetic form. A nasal spray to treat depression was approved in 2019. The infusions and injections are not approved by the FDA to treat depression.
Most insurance companies won't cover a treatment cost and some patients are left paying hundreds of dollars per session out of pocket.
Barton says the benefits outweigh the cost because ketamine works faster and more effectively compared to many other anti-depressants.
"We can see the effects of Ketamine within 24 to 72 hours," said Barton.
Barton says research also shows it can help treat some substance abuse addictions as well.
In a new documentary, former NBA player Lamar Odom explains how ketamine treatments are helping him stay sober after years of drugs and alcohol abuse.
Yale research labs showed ketamine which again is widely used as anesthesia during surgeries, triggers glutamate production, which, in a complex, cascading series of events, prompts the brain to form new neural connections.
This makes the brain more adaptable and able to create new pathways and gives patients the opportunity to develop more positive thoughts and behaviors.
Dr. Barton says ketamine is not a cure for depression but a helpful treatment when fighting the disease.