It sounds strange that a drug addiction could be successfully combated using another recreational drug, but it appears that certain psychedelic drugs can have a positive influence when combined with psychotherapy.
Although much of this research has been conducted before the 1970s and has typically focused on the use of LSD, recently psychiatrists from the St. Petersburg State Pavlov Medical University have tested the use of the drug ketamine.
Ketamine is typically used as a general anesthetic, but sub-anesthetic doses of it can produce psychedelic experiences.
The study was conducted by Evgeny M. Krupitsky, Andrei M. Burakov, Igor V. Dunaevsky, Tatyana N. Romanova, Tatyana Y. Slavina, and Alexander Y. Grinenko. It was published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2007.
Previous research conducted by Krupitsky found that ketamine-assisted psychotherapy could be an effective treatment for heroin addiction.
This study was conducted to examine whether the addition of a psychedelic experience to psychotherapy provided a one time boost to the treatment or if continuing to administer ketamine during psychotherapy would increase the effect of the treatment.
Krupitsky and his colleagues provided an initial ketamine-assisted psychotherapy session to 59 heroin dependent inpatients from the Leningrad Regional Center of Addictions.
“Before the first ketamine session, participants received five hours of psychotherapy focused on the participants’ addictions to prepare them for the ketamine session, and they recieved five hours of psychotherapy after the first ketamine session to help them to interpret their experience,” as they explain.
The ketamine-assisted psychotherapy session itself lasted for about one and a half to two hours.
After their initial ketamine session, roughly half of the participants received two additional sessions of ketamine-assisted therapy, while the other half received two sessions of psychotherapy without the use of ketamine.
After a one year follow up, Krupitsky and his colleagues found that 50% of those who received multiple sessions of ketamine-assisted therapy remained abstinent compared to 22.2% of those who received only a single session. Traditional forms of heroin treatment, such as the use of naltrexone, typically have abstinence rates of about 20%.
But how would using a psychedelic substance such as ketamine aid psychotherapy?
“People have reported experiencing violent or rapid travel through tunnels or corridors, derealization, extreme depersonalization associated with intense fear or euphoria, and feeling connected to God or a higher power. The transformative experiences often began with extreme fear, including fear of the world ending or apocalypse, and often ended in an experience of rebirth associated with oceanic, or positively experienced, ego loss and boundlessness,” Krupitsky and his colleagues describe.
“The ketamine experience is similar to some near-death experiences, and it may produce a positive shift in the participant’s understanding of the meaning of life, life purposes, and spiritual development through mechanisms similar to those seen with near-death experiences.”
Krupitsky, E.M., Burakov, A.M., Dunaevsky, I.V., Romanova, T.N., Slavina, T.Y. & Grinenko, A.Y. (2007). Single veruses repeated sessions of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for people with heroin dependence. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Vol 39, No 1: 13-19.