Shocking news: all that "ketamine therapy" that your buddy has been doing might really just be partying, actually.
Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic known for its psychedelic effects, has had a big year. Thanks in large part to its celebrity fans — a list that notably includes SpaceX honcho Elon Musk, ketamine's number one billionaire devotee — the compound has skyrocketed in mainstream popularity, with proponents arguing that the mind-altering drug is an effective therapeutic for treating psychiatric conditions ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Through various telemedicine platforms, the drug is widely available online; sit for a brief video call, and according to The New York Times, a hopeful participant may receive upwards of 30 doses of ketamine in the forms of pills, sprays, or lozenges.
But as eager as online sellers are to hawk their ketamine lollipops, America's drug daddy is here to remind us that the noted horse drug is still very much unregulated.
On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning declaring that no compounded version of ketamine — that is, a version of ketamine that, like other medicines, is mixed or altered to suit an individual patient, according to the FDA — has been generally approved for the "treatment of any psychiatric disorder."
So, in other words, if you're purchasing so-called therapeutic ketamine via an online provider, it's less like using telemedicine to receive prescription antidepressants, and a bit more like... well, just buying regular ol' party drugs.
And according to the FDA's warning, the danger, here, isn't just in the pharmaceutical Wild West of it all. Surely, considering the lack of FDA approval, the safety and efficacy of in-person ketamine sessions is up for debate. But in a clinical setting, there's at least supervision — a professional can step in if someone is having a bad reaction to the medicine, for example. Those who buy the drug online, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly likely to be taking it without any professional oversight, a reality that amplifies ketamine's very real risks.
Those risks are nothing to bat an eye at. As noted by the FDA in its warning, the potential side effects of the drug include "abuse and misuse" — ketamine is a recreational drug, after all, and has been known to be addictive — as well as "psychiatric events, increases in blood pressure, respiratory depression (slowed breathing), and lower urinary tract and bladder symptoms."
The FDA also warns that online sellers may be less likely to provide buyers with "important information about the potential risks associated with the product" to begin with. Which, of course, isn't great.
To be clear, ketamine isn't exactly illegal. It's classified as a Schedule III non-narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, and there's one version of it that has been approved for therapeutic purposes: esketamine, a nasal spray that was specially approved in 2019 for treating depression in cases when other antidepressants have failed. And, in general, we'd be remiss not to note that psychedelics do seem to offer some fascinating and exciting therapeutic benefits in clinical settings.
But buying Some Guy's Ketamine on the internet just isn't quite the same thing as receiving controlled, professionally-administered clinical treatments — and some of those who believe in the drug as a life-changing therapeutic worry that the unregulated online market might derail the hope for future FDA approval.
"Our concern is that these online sellers are going to ruin it for everybody," Peter Koshland, who has a compounding pharmacy in San Francisco, told the NYT.
"Our fear is that regulators, if they perceive a threat to public health," Koshland added, "will move to take this amazing medicine away and leave patients at risk."
More on ketamine: Startups Have a Fun New Idea: Workplace Ketamine Sessions
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