Elon Musk Takes Ketamine to Help Treat Depression: Does It Work?

Elon Musk Takes Ketamine to Help Treat Depression: Does It Work?
24.03.2024
  • In a recent interview, Elon Musk revealed that he has a prescription for ketamine to treat depression.
  • Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic that research indicates can help treat depression, but it is not currently FDA-approved for that or any other psychiatric indication.
  • Experts told Healthline that Musk’s interview will raise the profile of the drug, which could lead to more seeking treatment, but also more misuse.

Elon Musk revealed that he takes ketamine for depression in a recent interview with former CNN host Don Lemon.

The tech mogul told Lemon that he hoped by speaking out about the drug that it might “help other people.”

While remaining generally tight-lipped about the specifics, Musk did have this to say about his ketamine usage in the interview:

“There are times when I have a sort of negative chemical state in my brain, like depression, I guess — depression that’s not linked to any negative news. Ketamine is helpful for getting one out of a negative frame of mind.”

Experts contacted by Healthline agreed that Musk’s revelation would certainly help to raise the profile of the drug and its reputation as a treatment for depression.

However, they also noted reservations that it might lead to misuse outside appropriate medical and psychiatric settings.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine hydrochloride is an FDA-approved anesthetic that was developed some fifty years ago and is still used today.

It is a Schedule III non-narcotic substance, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, and has currently accepted medical uses.

But Ketamine also has a reputation as an illicit party drug that is known to cause hallucinations and a relaxed, disconnected feeling.

In the past twenty years, researchers have increasingly investigated ketamine for its potential use in a wide variety of mental health conditions, including:

  • depression (especially treatment-resistant depression)
  • substance use disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • anxiety
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Ketamine infusion therapy or intravenous ketamine is the most widely studied form of ketamine therapy for psychiatric disorders. Typically, a patient will receive a dose of the drug while under observation at a clinic and will then receive several maintenance doses over the following months.

There is no set dosage or infusion schedule; protocols may vary from clinic to clinic and patient to patient.

Simultaneously, researchers also began looking at similar drug formulations. In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration approved Spravato (esketamine) for treatment-resistant depression. However, esketamine is not ketamine and is administered via a nasal spray rather than intravenously.

Among these conditions, research indicates that the strongest evidence for ketamine therapy is for treatment-resistant depression, according to an expert review in The AmericanJournal of Psychiatry from 2021.

Despite mounting evidence, ketamine is currently not FDA-approved for any psychiatric disorders, but it can be prescribed by a licensed doctor.

“Ketamine infusion therapy or IV ketamine is not approved by the FDA. It’s really only been within the last couple decades that there’s been increased attention by the public and also by, psychiatry researchers and clinicians in using this in a clinical setting,” Dr. Jeffrey Zabinski, MD, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center told Healthline.

The Columbia University Medical Center does offer ketamine infusion therapy as part of their psychiatric services.

What health experts think of Musk’s use of Ketamine to treat depression

Referring to Musk’s interview, Zabinski said, “There’s a positive opportunity for education when something like this comes up. The flip side of it is that ketamine is absolutely not appropriate for everyone. So you have to make sure to work with a psychiatrist or other mental healthcare professional to make sure that if there are other options that are safer, that those are explored before going to ketamine.”

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Asked by Lemon if he ever abuses the drug, Musk responded, “I don’t think so. If you use too much ketamine, you can’t really get work done, and I have a lot of work.”

He went on to explain his ketamine usage and said that he only uses “a small amount once every other week.”

Dr. Boris Heifets, MD, PhD, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine at Stanford Medicine, also told Healthline that Musk’s interview is likely to help destigmatize mental health. However, he was more blunt about the downsides:

“Someone could listen to that interview and say, ‘Hey, I’m depressed, and it sounds like this guy, who is very high functioning, says it’s okay, then maybe it’s going to be good for me. Maybe I don’t need to have a doctor tell me what’s what because I don’t trust the medical establishment. I’m just going to get some ketamine.’ And that is a problem. I feel very comfortable saying that worries me a lot.”

Is ketamine safe?

Ketamine has a strong safety profile and has been used professionally in medical settings for decades. However, there are serious concerns about the dangers posed when the drug is used recreationally.

There are also questions about the long-term safety of ketamine infusion therapy for depression.

“Ketamine is exceptionally safe when given once. We have fifty years of experience with ketamine being given to millions of people in operating rooms around the world. But we also know ketamine is a drug abuse,” said Heifets.

Even for those prescribed ketamine, more research is needed about safety.

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“There’s a lot we don’t know about its risk profile that we should attend before making determinations,” he said.

As a potential drug for misuse, ketamine is complicated. While there is some misuse potential, research has also found that ketamine may play a role in the treatment of substance disorders.

“Ketamine has been abused historically in the past few decades. So, it’s something that we have to pay extra attention to when patients have a history of substance use disorders. The complicated thing is, there are some studies that show that sometimes doses of ketamine can be helpful for substance use disorders.”

Health Risks of Ketamine

Ketamine has the potential for both short and long-term health risks. Immediately after taking the drug, individuals may experience:

  • Hallucinations
  • Feeling drunk
  • Sedation
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea

Overdosing on ketamine can result in unconsciousness and dangerously slowed breathing.

In the long-term, ketamine use can lead to:

  • Urinary and bladder problems
  • Abuse and misuse
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Psychiatric events

Takeaway Note

Elon Musk recently discussed his prescription for ketamine to treat depression.

Ketamine is a powerful, FDA-approved anesthetic that research indicates is also an effective therapy for treatment-resistant depression.

However, the drug is not FDA-approved for any psychiatric disorders.

Experts say that while Musk speaking out may be helpful to destigmatize mental health, it may also lead to increased interest in the drug, which has the potential for misuse.

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