What you need to know about ketamine after Elon Musk talks about drug use

(NEXSTAR) – En an interview For more than an hour, former CNN reporter Don Lemon and Tesla CEO Elon Musk went back and forth on a variety of topics, including conspiracy theories, advertiser boycotts of Musk’s X and the election presidential elections of 2024.

During the discussion, published in full in XLemon also pressed Musk about his ketamine use.

Musk has published repeatedly in X about ketamine, saying he believes “occasional ketamine is a better option” for those suffering from depression than traditional antidepressants.

When asked by Lemon, Musk said he had a prescription for ketamine, though he backtracked and said it was “pretty private to ask someone about a prescription.” He described “times when I have a kind of negative chemical state in my brain, like depression, I guess,” and said that ketamine can be helpful in relieving “a negative mood.”

Ketamine made headlines late last year when a medical examiner determined that “Friends” actor Matthew Perry died as a result of the “acute effects of ketamine.” Perry, 54, “was receiving ketamine infusion therapy for depression and anxiety.”

Here are 3 things you need to know about ketamine and its uses:

What is Ketamine?

It was originally developed for use as a battlefield anesthetic during the Vietnam War, said Dr. Caleb Alexander, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins and co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness , during a January podcast episode.

Ketamine, a controlled but legal substance, is now used in medical settings as an anesthetic and for treatment-resistant depression. It is known to have “some hallucinogenic effects,” according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Ketamine distorts the perception of sight and sound and makes the user feel disconnected and out of control,” explains the DEA. “It’s known as a ‘dissociative anesthetic hallucinogen’ because it makes patients feel detached from their pain and environment.”

Yale Medicine says ketamine can cause the brain to form new neural connections that could, in turn, “give patients the opportunity to develop more positive thoughts and behaviors.”

The Food and Drug Administration notes that ketamine is not approved for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In 2019, however, the agency approved a prescription version of ketamine, a nasal spray known as esketamine (or Spravato), for difficult-to-treat depression, according to Harvard Medical School.

Are there safety concerns associated with ketamine?

Authorities warn that ketamine can cause “dissociative sensations and hallucinogenic effects.” In addition to the impacts listed above, ketamine can cause other unwanted effects, including agitation, depression, cognitive difficulties, unconsciousness and amnesia, according to the DEA.

Alexander explained that the side effects of ketamine can be delayed and not always short-lived. He adds that there is a risk of addiction to ketamine, but there is not the same level of evidence against the drug as there is for opioids.

The DEA explains that ketamine is known to be abused by injecting, mixing a liquid or powder form with another liquid, or snorting or smoking the powder.

Lemon pressed Musk, asking if he thinks he ever abuses drugs. In response, Musk said he didn’t think so, adding that, “If you’ve used too much ketamine, you can’t really do any work,” he said. “I have a lot of work.”

Are there benefits to ketamine?

Although there are risks to the drug, it is known to be effective when it comes to its intended uses.

According to the Mayo Clinic, intravenous ketamine has been found to “provide rapid relief” of treatment-resistant depression, or TRD. This relief is known to last for days or weeks, and doses are generally given with decreasing frequency before potentially tapering off. The nasal spray version, esketamine, has also been found to relieve symptoms of depression within hours. This relief may also last for several weeks.

Dr. Peter Grinspoon writes in an article for Harvard Health that TRD relief experienced with ketamine use is typically faster than that seen with antidepressant medications. However, he notes that “ketamine is not a first-line treatment for depression.”

“It’s usually only when other, older treatments haven’t been effective,” he explains. “Ketamine does not offer a cure; rather, it improves symptoms of depression over a period of time.”

Dr. Grinspoon, as well as Dr. Alexander and other medical experts, caution against self-medication. Instead, talk to a health care provider to determine if it’s the right treatment for you.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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