STORIES

Treat Cocaine Abuse with Ketamine

By David Jenison on February 22, 2018

The cat is officially out of the bag: Ketamine might help cocaine addicts recover. 

Noting that research suggests "some of the psychoactive effects of sub-anesthetic ketamine may have therapeutic potential," a group of Columbia University researchers wanted to determine which particular effects helped with addiction recovery. Other studies demonstrated the potential for therapies that involve hallucinogens, particularly those that activate serotonin receptors, and these researchers hoped to identify which ketamine-induced effects provided therapeutic benefits for addiction recovery. 

The study, published in Neuropharmacology, identified three specific responses to ketamine—i.e., acute mystical-type effects, dissociation and near-death experience phenomena—but only one of these helped cocaine abusers get off the powder. Per the Columbia University team, "A subset of these effects—the so-called mystical-type experience—mediates the effect of ketamine on craving and cocaine use in cocaine dependent research volunteers." 

For context, mystical refers to spiritually symbolic states of ecstasy and consciousness. A 2015 study cited examples like "the experience of profound unity with all that exists, a felt sense of sacredness, a sense of the experience of truth and reality at a fundamental level (noetic quality), deeply felt positive mood, transcendence of time and space, and difficulty explaining the experience in words." 

University of Tennessee professor Ralph Hood developed a Mysticism Scale in the 1970s to rate such experiences, and variations have been used to evaluate "mystical experiences occasioned by classic hallucinogens" like ketamine. This particular study utilized the Hood scale (as well as other clinical scales for dissociation and near-death experiences) to measure mystical-type experiences and their effects on addiction recovery.  

"[The Hood Mysticism Scale] was found to mediate the effect of ketamine on global improvement (decreased cocaine use and craving) over the post-infusion period," wrote the researchers. "This is the first controlled study to show that mystical-type phenomena, long considered to have therapeutic potential, may work to impact decision-making and behavior in a sustained manner."

What does this finding mean for rehabilitation therapies? The researchers argued in favor of developing selectively psychoactive drugs that focused on "mystical-type perspectival shifts" for treating addiction. 

Such a medication arguably involves less risk than simply substituting blow for Special K. 

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