“Without ketamine, I probably wouldn’t be here today”

I felt that I had been left on my own before this treatment was offered to me. The therapists had told me they had no more options to offer. I stood there with no hope of help, no hope of recovery.

The 48-year-old began making plans for how she was going to end it all.

I have a wife that I love and people around me that I love, but I felt like I was just hurting them by being here.

I had read about ketamine

Cleary had kept the suicidal thoughts to himself. But now he has told his wife Bente, to whom she has been married since she was 27, of these thoughts.

Cleary’s spouse then started desperately looking for a solution. He had read somewhere that some people with severe depression and suicidal thoughts could be cured with a drug called ketamine.

When degrd mentioned it to her therapist, she just smiled and asked, “So you’ve read something, haven’t you?” Then nothing more happened.

After a few weeks, degrd timidly asked to be referred to Stfold Hospital. He knew they had started this treatment.

A couple of weeks later, she was called.

Open to new things

Department head Ingmar Clausen’s team was awarded the degree at stfold Hospital. When sciencenorway.no meets Clausen, the psychiatrist describes himself as the kind of doctor open to new ideas.

Clausen worked as an emergency physician in Germany, and it was there that he first heard about ketamine. Doctors carried it in their emergency bags.

When Clausen learned of the use of ketamine to treat depression, he devoted himself to investigating the scientific literature.

The most important thing for me as a doctor is not to harm my patients. So the first thing I looked into was possible harmful effects, he says.

He learned that no harmful effects of this psychedelic have been recorded in doses used in the treatment of mental disorders. Every single day, ketamine is used during surgeries in Norwegian hospitals, where doses are ten times higher than those currently used to treat mental disorders.

He also learned from the scientific literature that the potential for addiction is very low under controlled conditions.

A challenging process

However, convincing colleagues that Stfold Hospital should take the lead in Norway in allowing patients with severe depression to try ketamine treatment was still a difficult process, Clausen says.

This is something we just don’t do was the only counter argument I got, he says.

The drug, in addition to being an anesthetic to be used in operations, is also a psychedelic substance. Ketamine is used by some people as a party drug.

After much discussion, stfold Hospital became the first public hospital in Norway to offer ketamine treatment in 2020.

The first patients were recruited from the hospital emergency department. The hospital then began treating patients who were in grave danger of taking their own lives and who had tried all other treatments for depression.

He wanted to end his life

Cleary degrd was one of them.

I had a difficult childhood. When I was 12, I lost my brother. Then things started happening to me. The first depression appeared. So did the suicidal thoughts. The grip of it all tightened during my teenage years, she said.

His depression had taken hold. In her early twenties, degrd was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time. Since then she has had recurring depressions and many hospitalizations.

Despite many rough times, degrd has never been particularly fond of drugs, she says.

It might have something to do with my upbringing. I almost never drink alcohol. Maybe a beer on Saturday, rarely anything more.

That’s why she found the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčtaking a drug that could induce an altered state of consciousness quite scary, she says.

Head of ketamine research

Clausen shows us the hospital room where the ketamine treatment takes place. The sickest patients with depression are admitted here.

The patient can choose between a good bed or a stress-free recliner. Calm music. Nurses take the time to talk to you before and after your treatment. The patient is given a small dose of ketamine under close supervision.

Clausen is now leading the research at Stfold Hospital, which should be able to provide further results on the effectiveness of treatments for patients.

Much of the documentation is already in the medical records of the 150 patients who have received treatment at the hospital so far.

In some patients, ketamine has not been effective. But the psychiatrist estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of patients responded positively.

However, these experiences are not enough. They must be able to document that the treatment is effective.

Some of Ingmar Clausen's patients at Stfold Hospital have had no effect from ketamine.  But the psychiatrist estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of patients responded positively.

Some of Ingmar Clausen’s patients at Stfold Hospital have had no effect from ketamine. But the psychiatrist estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of patients responded positively.

Blown away by the experience

Patients who experience the effects of ketamine notice the change fairly quickly, often after the first treatment, Clausen says.

Therapists receive these patients who arrive deeply depressed and withdrawn. Also during treatment there are significant mood changes and patients begin to open up.

Stfold Hospital doctor says he doesn’t want to be “a hallelujah boy”.

But our therapists are deeply touched to see the positive change in many of the patients. They have stars in their eyes! That’s when I think what’s happening is kind of magical, she says. These are patients who have tried everything. This treatment is their last straw.

Many patients say they have been given a new lease on life. It’s moving, Clausen says.

degrd finds it somewhat difficult to put into words parts of what he has experienced.

degrd finds it somewhat difficult to put into words parts of what he has experienced.

He laughed for the first time in a long time

But she says she didn’t experience death as creepy.

You might think that would have made me even less scared of dying. But the suicidal thoughts actually practically disappeared right after the first treatment. After the fourth treatment, they were completely gone. And the voices that had been in my head for a long time also disappeared. This may have been the strongest effect. My head calmed down after the first treatment.

degrd also experienced something else, completely unexpected.

I’m not a bubbly person. But after one of the first treatments, I discovered something funny by the wayside.

Then, to my own astonishment, I suddenly laughed completely spontaneously. It had been so long since I had laughed. Then I had to laugh even more. It was so wonderful!

Fear that the darkness will return

Now he can still laugh, even if laughter is not what most characterizes his daily life.

After such a long period of deep depression, I have become very flat emotionally. I have a hard time looking ahead to things and finding the initiative to get things done. Ketamine gave me the ability to want to go on living, but I didn’t have a whole new life. I haven’t become a completely new person, says degrd.

He still has difficult days. Then she becomes anxious that the darkness may return. But the dark thoughts aren’t so intrusive anymore, she says.

What Degrd fears most, should the darkness return, is that he may never receive the same treatment again.

Without ketamine, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I could no longer bear to continue living the life I was living.

Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Image Source : sciencenorway.no

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