The terrible dangers of using ketamine to treat depression: a medically induced horror story
Updated: Jan 26
Four years ago, I underwent ketamine infusions for treatment resistant depression, and it backfired so spectacularly that it nearly cost me my life.
I have been so unwell since the whole medical catastrophe, that I have been unable to document and disclose what really happened, but now that I am finally well enough, I am determined to share my story to inform and educate others.
With a medical investigation still ongoing, I wasn’t sure that I could openly divulge the details of my case, but having read an article in The Guardian on Saturday, which stated that ketamine could be ‘the cure for mental illness’, I felt compelled to go ahead anyway, and immediately expose and detail my horrendous experience.
In February of 2017, while studying for the last third of a degree in psychology, I began another descent into the (now familiar) void of depression. I had returned to academia as a mature student after a series of bipolar episodes had ripped my first career away from me, making competing as a professional rider completely impossible.
Having endured several depressions throughout my twenties, I was familiar with the slow descent into hell, but this time I was determined that having to stop and sacrifice everything wasn’t going to happen.
Having had nothing but side effects on traditional antidepressants - which either induced horrific panic, fear and anxiety, or did absolutely nothing to alleviate my depression - this time I was determined to find an alternative treatment, so when I heard that ketamine was being used for resistant cases I immediately applied for an assessment.
A month later I went for my appointment, and (now in complete suicidal crisis), sobbed through the entire thing. I was duly accepted for treatment with ketamine, which was to be administered intravenously once a week over the course of the following three weeks.
The first infusion took me on a frightening psychedelic trip but did absolutely nothing to alleviate my depression. By the time I went back for the second treatment I was in mental agony with almost catatonic depression, and I sat on the waiting room floor crying in pain and desperation. The second infusion was equally as hideous as the first and I went home to bed and collapsed as usual.
Over the next four days my sleep pattern went from 17 hours a day with ‘simple’ depression, to the absolute opposite end of the spectrum where I experienced complete mental disruption, getting absolutely no rest at all, let alone anything resembling relaxation and sleep.
I was now terrified that mania was on its way to me because I knew the pattern from previous episodes, but there was no follow-up between appointments, so I wasn’t able to express my concern with a professional. I rang the clinic repeatedly but was unable to get hold of anyone except a health care assistant who told me to take a herbal sleeping pill!
By the time of the next appointment, I was in a full-blown manic episode, literally flying around at a million miles an hour, believing that I was some kind of biblical prophet or disciple, blessing people with holy water, and rambling and pontificating about philosophical and psychological dilemmas like Cartesian dualism and the mind-brain problem.
I was then sectioned and admitted to a psychiatric ward, where I was overpowered and bulldozed in a corridor, before being forcibly injected with sedatives and antipsychotics - all of which I believe could have been avoided if only I’d had access to support and earlier medical intervention.
I was now placed under the care of a completely different psychiatrist who had absolutely nothing to do with the ketamine treatment. For the next three months I went through the usual scenario of trying to explain what had happened, yet being consistently misunderstood and discredited, with every action being interpreted as symptomatic of mania and madness.
The whole experience was stressful and traumatic for the whole family, but especially so for me since I was now terrified of crashing into depression and returning to the same unbearable state I’d been in previously.
My pleas and concerns went unheard, and I was then bulldozed again just before leaving, and filled with yet more antipsychotics (meant to prevent depression, yet completely ineffective), and then suffered yet more side effects and complications. As it turns out, I was absolutely justified in my resistance to these medications, since I never benefitted from them and I haven’t needed any of them since.
When I was finally discharged my mood dropped from ‘normal’ to suicidal in a matter of about a month and I spent the next 18 months in a catatonic depression, barely leaving my room let alone the house and constantly resisting the suicidal thoughts that dominated my every waking moment.
During 2018, I went back to the ketamine doctor and (believing that I had no other option) underwent nearly a whole year of treatment with oral ketamine, which was not only revolting but completely ineffective.
Even at higher doses where I would experience a horrific ‘k hole’ (where I was completely detached from every human concept), my depression did not lift in even the slightest way. All the other patients that were undergoing treatment alongside me reported no benefit from ketamine either, and we would return week in week out totally demoralised, and in suicidal crisis despite our continuous trips for more downing of the revolting horse tranquilizer at the hospital.
Our disastrous failures with the drug are not highlighted in the same way as those that report benefits - we only ever seem to hear the ‘success stories’, which are erroneous and misleading, because for myself and lots of others, ketamine therapy has been disappointing and in my case extremely damaging.
I eventually gave up with ketamine completely, even though I was still in suicidal crisis and desperate for medical intervention. After telling my parents that I could not survive this ketamine induced catastrophic mental state any longer, we had no choice but to seek costly private treatment, and I spent the next year going to and from Harley Street on an almost daily basis.
The new psychiatrist identified immediately that as a result of everything that had happened, I was now rapid cycling between ‘simple depression’ (there’s nothing simple about it), ‘mixed state’ (manic negative thoughts), ‘agitated depression’ – (where I felt deep inner unrest, my heart twinging constantly), and ‘depression with flight of ideas’ – (negative ruminations, constantly returning to thoughts of hanging and suicide).
Over a period of many months and with much persistence and patience, things very gradually started to improve. Once the rapid cycling abated, living alongside regular depression, (although still horrific) was nothing to the apathetic state that ketamine had left me in.
Eventually, the damage to my brain from the obliteration of virtually every neurotransmitter and chemical was rectified, and a year on from that, (along with making a huge effort at regaining my confidence), I am finally back to the authentic version of myself, but it has taken quite something to get here!
I don’t think I would ever have come out of the horrific ketamine induced bipolar mixed state had it not been for treatment I received at The London Psychiatry Centre where I underwent extensive repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, combined with high dose levothyroxine under the care of the incredible thaumaturge that is Dr Andy Zamar.
The investigation into what happened with the ketamine disaster is still ongoing. The latest claim from the hospital is that they didn’t have to follow a protocol of administering a mood stabilizer before treatment with ketamine because manic switches had not been previously reported.
I have since found eight cases on the internet where manic affective switch has been experienced from administering ketamine in a medical setting, and I can’t believe that they would lie about this especially to someone with a severe mental illness!
I have studied carefully the eight documented cases but I don’t recognise myself as being one of them, which makes me wonder how many other unreported cases there are out there. I have also scanned the internet for the research paper that was written about me, and I can’t find that either.
Through my research I have even found two cases of ketamine induced psychosis in the medical literature, one of which even resulted in suicide when the patient ingested petrol and then set himself on fire. How can we possibly be allowing treatment with ketamine to be taken seriously as a safe treatment for depression?!!
In view of tragic cases such as these, as well as my own horror story, I believe that treatment with ketamine should be discontinued and the plans to make ketamine therapy available on the NHS be completely aborted.
Treating vulnerable patients with ketamine is clearly dangerous and very damaging and cannot be allowed to continue in any setting whatsoever.
I will persist in getting my story and that of others, out into the public domain because the brutal suffering that I have endured as a result of my ‘ketamine experience’ is something that should be avoided at all costs.
I implore everyone reading this, especially those in the medical profession, to take note of my story and help to intervene against this dangerous treatment being rolled out on the NHS.
I have detailed the whole story in a combined memoir and self-help book in order to warn others of the dangers of iatrogenesis and the harm that can be caused by psychiatric drugs which I am currently seeking literary representation for - if anyone can help me with this I would be so grateful.
Please share this story to others as a warning of the catastrophic dangers of medical treatment with this drug.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,