Ketamine was developed in the 1950’s by Parke-Davis laboratories in Detroit, Michigan as the ideal anesthetic agent, because it induced sedation and unconsciousness and treated pain, which is necessary for surgery. Its safety profile was celebrated as this medication was shown to avoid depressing blood pressure or breathing, which is a problem with other anesthetic agents. The first human studies were performed in 1964 by Dr. Edward Domino, who observed that subjects would enter a dream-like state and they appeared ‘disconnected’ from their bodies. He developed the term ‘dissociative anesthetic’ to characterize the effect of ketamine.
The FDA provided approval of Ketamine in 1970. Initially, it was used to treat battlefield injuries and surgery in the Vietnam war. In 1999, the DEA labeled it as a schedule III non-narcotic substance under the Controlled Substance Act.
While it was primarily used by anesthesiologists in surgical settings, small pockets of individuals started to explore the utility of sub-anesthetic doses of ketamine as a modality to expand consciousness and treat mood disorders, addiction, and pain.
It was not until the early 2000s, after formal research studies were published that a momentum shift developed, and treatment centers emerged throughout the United States. Since this time, dozens of well-designed clinical trials have clearly demonstrated the benefits of ketamine for treating depression and other mood disorders in the scientific literature. In fact, in 2007, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, the nation’s leading psychiatrist Thomas Insel claimed, “Recent data suggest that ketamine may be the most important breakthrough in antidepressant treatment in decades.” In 2019, a nasal spray formulation called esketamine and received FDA approval for the use in treatment resistant depression.
Ketamine fits into a very long tradition of utilizing mind-altering compounds to promote growth and healing, which has its origins in almost all indigenous traditions cross the globe. The widespread use is commonly practiced by a shaman, who guides individuals through the administration of various psychedelic compounds on an inward journey. Traditional plant medicines include known compounds such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescaline (Peyote cactus), DMT (ayahuasca), ibogaine, and belladonna. These practices were not exclusive to “pre-civilization” tribal communities, but there is archeological evidence that traced consciousness expanding compounds in ceremonial chalices believed to be consumed during sacred ceremonies in Greek, Egyptian and Indian civilizations.
In the 1950s, psychiatrists started using various mind-altering compounds, primarily LSD (lysergic acid) in a new field termed psychedelic psychotherapy. There was great excitement and momentum into this field that stalled significantly in the late 1960s due to political forces that interfered with this scientific research. The term psychedelic was coined by British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, and it comes from the Ancient Greek term that means “mind manifesting.” The cornerstone of this therapy aims to promote transcendent, ecstatic, mystical or peak experiences through the influence of these compounds.
The field of psychedelic medicine is now experiencing a resurgence after promising research coming from institutions such as Johns Hopkins and Yale are publishing exciting results with the use of psilocybin, and MDMA (methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), which unlike ketamine are currently not FDA approved for medical use outside of research. With the growing cultural acceptance and evidenced based support in the medical community, clinical practices such as Genesis Ketamine Centers are now able to provide excellent care safely and lawfully to the patients who need it most.