Special K: More Special Than We Thought?
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Special K: More Special Than We Thought?


This post was originally published on April 14, 2017.

According to an article in Vice, there is a “quiet revolution” going on in the world of research and treatment for depression: the popular rave drug ketamine, aka Special K, has been found to be an effective solution for treating patients with severe depression. Or at least this is true in the case of Soong Phoon, the author of the piece. Phoon says that after numerous attempts at suicide and 18 rounds of Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), her psychiatrist in the Intensive Care Unit at a facility in Auckland, New Zealand suggested ketamine. After four infusions, her mood lifted and she felt great. This lasted for two weeks.

The Special K Effect

Phoon’s case isn’t isolated. The Guardian also reported on a recent study in the UK that found 29% of a group of depressed patients treated with ketamine experienced a significant improvement in their moods within a week. Like Phoon, these are people that struggled with severe and long-term depression and were SSRI resistant, meaning anti-depressants didn’t work for them. If it weren’t for ketamine, they would have been left with only one option, ECT—currently the mainstream accepted alternative for SSRI resistant depression. But unlike with Special K, which they know operates on glutamate receptors (the same ones affected by alcohol), no one can explain why ECT works. No to mention the fact that it’s about five times as expensive as ketamine infusions and had known side effects of memory loss.

Because of its euphoric and mild hallucinogenic qualities, ketamine is typically known as a party drug that became popular in the club scene in the mid-to-late 90s. I’ll never forget showing up to a friend’s apartment late one night, hoping to get some blow and pull an all-nighter, only to find his living room filled with half-conscious zombie people, most of whom were hunched or nodded out. “What the hell is going on in here?” I asked the host, genuinely concerned for my friends’ well being. “They’re in a K-hole, man,” he said and then asked me if I wanted to try some. Since I refuse to get involved with any drug that induces people to call me “man,” I politely declined.

Different Dosage, Different Effects

So even at the height of my love affair with designer drugs like Ecstasy and MDMA, the sobering view of that mass K-hole was enough to prevent me from ever trying Special K. It just didn’t seem like all that much fun to me. But I imagine that, like with many drugs, dosage plays a large role. For instance, if taken in the right amounts, GHB can be used for treating insomnia, narcolepsy and even bodybuilding. But taken in the wrong amounts, it can be slipped into someone’s drink and used like roofies.

Even though Special K as a treatment for depression has yielded some good results, it seems that because of its reputation as a club drug, it might have a long was to go before it’s an approved and accepted alternative for the treatment for severe depression. As of now, the medical community is more comfortable electro-shocking people’s brains than allowing them to feel too good. Which is sad to me. Having battled depression for the greater part of the last 15 years, I know what it’s like to not be able to function and to be in so much emotional pain that suicide feels like the only option. But I have been lucky; my depression is well-treated with a small daily dose of Lexapro and while I don’t feel euphoric on it, I am able to achieve a level of emotional stability and normalcy I just can’t when I am in a serotonin-deprived dump.

Still Drugs, No Matter How You Spin It

So while some may say, “Well, yeah, of course potent sedatives are going to make you feel good,” I say to each his own. There are millions of people in the world who struggle with mental and emotional issues and self-medicate with all kinds of drugs and alcohol. Is that better because its not on record, not signed off on by the medical community? I am grateful that I don’t have to sit balled up on my couch wiping a seemingly never-ending flow of tears from my face, lacking the ability to leave the house and wondering if perhaps ketamine would work for me. But I sympathize with people who do. Because I know they are out there and they are scared—desperate to try anything. And if it works, and you can do it under the care of a physician, then who cares what it is or why it does what it does, as long as it does it?

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.