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Written By: Ben Wilson

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, mental health issues are on the rise. Between the shared global distress, social isolation during quarantine, and even the potential lingering cognitive effects of those infected with COVID-19, we could potentially be facing the largest collective mental health crisis that we have seen to this date. After society gradually begins to return to “normal” and the most pertinent threats of this virus are neutralized, there will likely be many individuals seeking treatments for mental health disorders which either arose or worsened during the COVID-19 outbreak. Surprisingly enough, one of the most promising potential treatments is a somewhat unlikely candidate, ketamine.

Ketamine is scheduled by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency as a class III substance. By definition, Schedule III substances are categorized as having a moderate to low potential for physical or psychological dependence; this essentially means that although there is a slight potential for abuse with ketamine. Despite instances of the drug’s unmonitored recreational usage, it should be explored as a potential therapeutic. 

 Ketamine was first introduced into the commercial marketplace in 1970 as a general anesthetic. It varied slightly from other forms of anesthesia at the time, partially due to its relatively short-lasting effects, in addition to its ability to maintain cardiovascular stability. After administration of ketamine, the subject may experience an unusual state, which is sometimes referred to as “dissociative anesthesia.” In addition to its anesthetic effects, ketamine has even been found to possess neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor properties in low doses. 

Furthermore, in recent years ketamine’s effects have been studied for use in the treatment of mental health conditions. Ketamine differs from other current treatment options because unlike many common pharmaceuticals, it does not necessarily require a habitual dose of the substance in order to maintain its efficacy. This means that the antidepressant effects of ketamine can potentially persist weeks, even months, after the anesthetic/hallucinogenic effects of the drug have long subsided. Although ketamine’s effects on the mind are not fully understood, clinics such as those run by Dr. Cole Marta at the California Center for Psychedelic Therapy have had success in treating conditions such as treatment-resistant depression and PTSD. In conclusion, there is still a lot we don’t know about ketamine and its mechanisms, although its future for therapeutic purposes looks promising.