HIAWATHA, Iowa (KWWL) – When you say ‘ketamine,’ the first thing that probably comes to mind is the horse tranquilizer party-goers use in the club scene.
But now, psychologists and psychiatrists are recommending it for people struggling with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Studies show depression is the leading cause of disability for people ages 15 to 44. But one in three adults don’t respond to treatment.
Dr. Linda Hodges is trying to change that.
She’s giving calculated doses of ketamine to her patients through an IV. Hodges started offering the treatment 2 and a half years ago. She owns Iowa Ketamine Services, PLC, in Hiawatha.
Hodges said the drug has been used in commercial settings to improve mood and depression scores for a little more than a decade.
While scientists and doctors have studied ketamine, Hodges said there are not a lot of large volume studies. However, evidence shows the dissociative anethetsic can dramatically improve people’s moods and thoughts of suicide.
Patients go to the office to get their treatment. Usually, it takes about one hour to get the medication. However, the entire appointment lasts about two hours.
Because the treatment wears off, Hodges said patients typically need to get six infusions over the course of one month.
Ketamine puts patients in a dissociative state, meaning it separates the mind and body. It causes psychedelic side effects.
“Sometimes, people describe it to me like they’re playing golf on the moon but they know they’re in the office and they can tell me about it. So they’re like those two things at once,” she said.
Over time, the drug can improve clarity and motivation. But doctors still haven’t figured out why.
“We know that ketamine actually helps do some brain repair. But we don’t know how it helps elevate mood,” she said. “That’s still a mystery. It works through a different neurotransmitter pathway than all the other anti-depressants.”
Hodges said some of her patients are worried about ketamine because of its reputation as a horse tranquilizer and party drug. But she said it’s safe with doctor supervision.
“It does still exist, and it’s still a party drug,” she said. “It has horrible effects out in the club scene. But we also don’t know how much people are taking. We’re assuming it’s way more than I’m giving people here, obviously.”
Ketamine helps patients who may not respond to other treatments. For many, it’s a last-ditch effort.
“Just the ability for people to take care of their kids, and do their jobs more effectively, or get out of the house more and have a social life, or improve their relationship,” she explained. “Depression, and PTSD and anxiety, it takes such a toll on people.”
So far, Hodges has done nearly 1,000 infusions. She said the treatment works on about 70% of her patients. She encourages them to pair the infusions with other types of therapy.
Earlier this year, the FDA approved a nasal spray called, esketamine, a derivative of ketamine.
For more information about ketamine infusions and Dr. Hodges clinic, visit: https://ketamineiowa.com/