This post was originally published on October 27, 2015.
Many moons ago, I walked into the living room of my friend’s brownstone in Boston to see six people sitting on the floor, spaced out and drooling. I was deep enough into the drug culture of the 90’s to know that despite looking like a scene from Night of The Living Dead, these people were having a good time.
“I think they took too much,” my friend said, “they are all in a K hole.”
For those of you who opted to skip over the rave scene—congratulations—you missed nothing except huge pants, adult pacifiers and waking up covered in glitter. But if you really enjoy EDM in an altered state, then I guess you also missed out on the joys of Ecstasy (hey stranger, I love you!), GHB (rape, anyone?) and a little drug called Special K (aka ketamine), which like GHB, required a very specific dose, otherwise one would fall into what was affectionately called a “K hole.”
Have you ever been talking to someone and just spaced out, your eyes fixed on nothing in particular yet you are unable to snap out of it? That is what a K hole is like and as pleasant as it might sound, it can be rather upsetting the first time it happens. Little did we know back in the day, we were actually innovators in mental health, treating our depression. It’s a good thing too, because with all the E we were taking (which drains the brain of serotonin), we might otherwise have been suicidal.
Shrinks Recommend Special K
According to NPR, a growing number of psychiatrists have been administering ketamine—medically approved as a fast acting anesthetic and rave approved as a fast-acting personality killer—to their patients with severe depression who have been unresponsive to other medications. Dr. David Feifel, a professor of psychiatry at the UCSD, has been doling out the club drug as an antidepressant since 2010 and is an advocate for this “off-label” use.
“It became clear to me that the future of psychiatry was going to include ketamine or derivatives of ketamine,” he told NPR.
Poppin’ Off (Label)
Other drugs have been found to help conditions beyond what they were originally intended for, Viagra being a well-known example (originally prescribed for heart disease). What’s different about taking Special K for depression is that it works immediately. Unlike the 6-8 week shelf life of most antidepressants, an intravenous shot of ketamine (we just snorted it) produces an initial altered state (probably shouldn’t drive) followed by an antidepressant/anti-anxiety effect that can last more than a month.
Prejudice and Pricey
But before you crack open your glow sticks, you should know this controversial treatment doesn’t work the same for everyone. Some patients receive the euphoric effects of the initial intake but then don’t reap the longer lasting benefits. Without these, you’re just getting high off a club drug that is best used to ease the comedown of E (or so I’ve heard).
Since using ketamine as an antidepressant isn’t FDA approved, insurance companies won’t cover the cost of treatment, which is pricey. A shot of Special K, given by your doctor (not self-administered in a the bathroom of a dive bar), costs $500 and an infusion, which acts much quicker, runs $1,000. A steep cost for most people but I suppose if your well-being is on the line, it’s certainly worth it. Hell, lots of people have maintained more expensive monthly heroin habits so it just goes to show, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And Then There’s This
I should point out as a writer for an addiction and recovery website, unlike more common treatments for depression, like Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Lexapro, ketamine is a narcotic and therefore addictive. So if you are an addict or recovering addict, I would say dollars to donuts, this treatment is not for you. For those who have been trapped in the painful cycle of depression and anxiety and haven’t self-medicated with, let’s say, an overwhelming supply alcohol and Xanax, you are a definite candidate. But I would have to assume that an addict who gets shot full of a tranquilizer powerful enough to sedate a horse and then sent home, isn’t likely going to wait a month for another dip into the K hole.