The party drug and anesthetic ketamine is starting to show promise in trials as a treatment for depression.
But new research also suggests that hundreds of U.S. clinics may be misleading consumers, hawking off-label and unapproved ketamine to treat a variety of mental health and pain conditions.
“These are expensive treatments for which patients generally must pay out of pocket and the evidence base is often not robust for many of the advertised uses,” said co-lead study author Michael DiStefano, an assistant professor in the department of clinical pharmacy at Colorado University’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy. “It is important that people considering these treatments are provided with an accurate and balanced statement of the possible risks and benefits.”
In the study published Nov. 7 in the journal JAMA Network Open, the researchers noted that ketamine delivered intravenously is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat any mental health condition, but it is sometimes used off-label for such use.
Ketamine in pill form isn’t approved to treat anything, either, but is often advertised to produce a hallucinogenic experience at home, the researchers said.
Using six national ketamine databases, DiStefano’s team tracked how ketamine is being sold. They identified online direct-to-consumer ketamine advertisers who had websites plus at least one clinic in Maryland.
The researchers found 17 advertisers operating across 26 locations in Maryland that promoted infusions or ketamine-assisted therapy for a wide range of conditions, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and chronic pain.
The advertising contained misleading information on both effectiveness of treatment and safety, the researchers said.
While the study focused on clinics in Maryland, DiStefano said the team’s compilation of the six national directories for ketamine treatment suggests there are roughly 800 such clinics across the United States. There are also several companies that will send customers oral ketamine through the mail.
“Psychedelic or hallucinogenic substances are increasingly being considered as mental health treatments. For example, Colorado is at the vanguard of developing policies to govern the use of psilocybin in depression,” DiStefano said in a university news release. “It is important to be transparent and accurate when explaining the potential risks and benefits of these treatments. While these treatments can provide hope and will be effective for some patients, there are real risks associated with ketamine use, especially over the long-term.”
Visit the Cleveland Clinic for more ketamine.
SOURCE: JAMA Network Open, Nov. 7, 2023; University of Colorado, news release, Nov. 7, 2023
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