Three years ago, Jared* a 31-year-old venture capitalist, sat in a purple recliner wearing an eye mask, ambient music pulsing through his Beats headphones. As a nurse inserted an IV into his left forearm, he took a deep breath and waited for the ketamine entering his veins to transport him to a different reality.
Jared has dealt with debilitating depression, anxiety, and ADHD for much of his life and hoped ketamine would be his silver bullet. The infusions at the ketamine clinic in his West Texas hometown were a Christmas gift from his grandmother. "She said, 'What do you want?' I was like, 'I want to not be depressed.'"
Ketamine, also known as K, is an anesthetic commonly used as a sedative and painkiller in human and veterinary medicine. It's also taken as a party drug, especially in the rave scene. When snorted at low doses it provides a goofy, calming buzz; at higher doses, it numbs the body and can lead to intense psychedelic experiences. In recent years, research has suggested ketamine can also be used to treat depression. Though the US Food and Drug Administration approved an antidepressant ketamine nasal spray in 2019, it hasn't officially given IV ketamine the green light for mental-health treatment. But at least as early as 2010, doctors and clinicians were beginning to prescribe the drug off-label — a legal and relatively common practice — to patients with particularly stubborn depression symptoms.
Jared, whose VC firm invests in cannabis, ketamine, and psychedelic therapy startups, had been taking antidepressants for more than a decade. He'd recently embarked on what he described as a "plant-based journey" to improve his mental health. He'd tried underground MDMA, psilocybin therapy, and ayahuasca ceremonies with a shaman from the Shipibo tribe in Brazil. So when a local ketamine clinic opened promising to treat a laundry list of conditions — depression, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, fibromyalgia — he figured it may not be a plant, but why the hell not?