Other patients might start crying uncontrollably or become anxious. Common side effects can include nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, poor coordination and feelings of disassociation and unreality. An increase in blood pressure can also occur, which is why monitoring during treatment is important.
Ketamine appears to provide patients a kind of mental time out from distressing thought patterns, experts said. Daniel Brenner, a psychiatrist and founder of Cambridge BioTherapies, said that as negative thinking begins to quiet down during and after ketamine therapy, many patients begin to find psychotherapy more productive, and behavioral patterns easier to rework. “Feelings become more available,” Brenner said. “It’s not just an antidepressant, it’s also a medication that shuts down the anti-reward circuitry in the brain that gives rise to shame and self-reproach and the desire to hurt yourself.”
Ariel Wolff, a 32-year-old veterinary technician of Malden, Mass., sought treatment from Brenner and began intravenous ketamine infusions in June. After six treatments, Wolff, who had struggled with depression and anxiety for 20 years, started cooking, hiking, reading and chatting with work colleagues again. “I felt great, better than I ever had in my whole life,” she said. “This was the person I’d always wanted to be, but couldn’t because I was so mentally ill.”