Veterans and PTSD: How Ketamine Could Help

The number of veterans experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continues to be alarmingly high, as does the number of veterans that fall victim to suicide, but a new treatment option offers hope when other therapy has failed.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), the number of Veterans with PTSD varies by service era:

  • Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): Between 11-20% of those who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
  • Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans have PTSD in a given year.
  • Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Consequently, suicide rates among veterans remains a significant concern.

According to the VA, the average number of Veteran suicides per day increased from 2005 to 2017. Overall, the average number of Veteran suicide deaths has equaled or exceeded 16 per day since 2007.

Veterans and PTSD: How Ketamine Could Help

(Courtesy: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)

PTSD: Symptoms and Causes

There are multiple causes of PTSD. According to the VA, when someone experiences a traumatic event, such as a car accident, an IED blast, military sexual trauma, or the death of a fellow Service member, that moment can continue to cause trauma for weeks, months, and even years later.

It can mean reliving the event, constantly replaying it in your head. It can result in avoiding places or things that remind you of the experience. It can also mean nightmares, sleeplessness, or anxiety. People with PTSD sometimes withdraw from their family members and friends. They can find it hard to concentrate, startle easily, and lose interest in things they used to care about. Some may try to dull their feelings by misusing alcohol or drugs.

History of Ketamine:

Ketamine was created in the mid-twentieth century, and by the 1960s, was used as an anesthetic on battlefields, in operating rooms, and as an alternative for people who had negative reactions to other anesthetics.

Unfortunately, ketamine began being used as a party drug, used in excessive amounts and administered in dangerous ways. This led to a bad reputation and tightly restricted laws.

Ketamine bounced back in the 1990s, when the Yale School of Medicine began researching ketamine as a potential treatment for depression. Their findings indicated that ketamine can effectively treat depression when it is administered accurately and at the proper dosage. More studies followed, showing that same result and even proving ketamine can help with severe depression and suicidal ideation.

More recently, scientists and doctors have studied ketamine as a treatment for PTSD. They’ve found that ketamine can be and has been effective in both treating and even preventing PTSD in many instances.

When the VA cleared the way for the use of Spravato (esketamine), an FDA-approved prescription form of ketamine in a nasal spray, in its clinics on March 19, 2019, the VA announced that practitioners would be able to prescribe the medication for patients who were determined to have treatment-resistant depression but only after appropriate clinical assessment and in accordance with their patients’ preferences.

Ketamine As a Treatment Option for PTSD:

Ketamine treats PTSD in the same way that it treats depression, chronic pain, and suicide ideation. That’s why it’s so powerful, according to Dr. Martin Teicher, an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program at McLean Hospital.

“I think it’s having multiple effects, and that means it’s probably useful for multiple different disorders,” Teicher told NPR.

There are two main ways that ketamine treats PTSD in particular:

By blocking N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)—a receptor involved in the amplification of pain signals, opioid tolerance, and the development of central sensitization, and by triggering glutamate production—a neurotransmitter that mediates response to stress and the formation of traumatic memories.

This all encourages the brain to rewire and alter its connection between cells, which allows the brain to be more adaptable and create new pathways—both of which provide opportunities to create more positive thoughts and behaviors.

Unlike other solutions, ketamine works beyond its day of use, helping with PTSD long-term.

Ketamine Therapy at Nova Vita Wellness Centers:

Nova Vita Wellness Centers offers IV ketamine infusion therapy to treat a wide variety of conditions, including PTSD. Nova Vita is also a certified and designated provider of Spravato, the esketamine nasal spray. To learn more about Ketamine infusion therapy for PTSD or to schedule an appointment, visit the Nova Vita Wellness Centers website.


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