Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy for Chronic Pain and Depression

Fri, May 3
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Chronic pain and depression are major health crises in the United States, significantly affecting the quality of life for millions. Traditional treatments often fall short in providing relief, leading to an urgent need for alternative therapies. Recent studies, including the one detailed in Frontiers in Pain Research have begun to explore the efficacy of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAPT) in treating these comorbid conditions. This pilot study investigates two distinct approaches to KAPT, providing insight into potential therapeutic pathways that combine psychological and pharmacological interventions.

Chronic pain and depression often coexist, creating a complex treatment landscape. The pilot study by Daniella Batievsky, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Dr.Michelle Weiner, Shari B. Kaplan LCSW, Cannectd Wellness,  Dr. Michael Edward Thase, Department of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Domenick Nicholas Maglione,  Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Philadelphia; Denise Christina Vidot, School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Miami; is set against a backdrop of increasing diagnoses and inadequate responses to conventional medications. The costs associated with these conditions—not only financial but also emotional and societal—are staggering, emphasizing the need for more effective treatments.

Ketamine, traditionally used as an anesthetic, has shown promise in recent years for its rapid antidepressant effects. The pilot study explores its use in a psychotherapeutic setting, comparing two different KAPT approaches: a psychedelic approach involving high doses of ketamine administered intramuscularly and a psycholytic approach using lower doses sublingually during therapy sessions. This innovative treatment targets both the symptoms and underlying causes of chronic pain and depression through induced altered states of consciousness and psychological healing.

The study meticulously detailed by the team involved ten adults diagnosed with both chronic pain and major depressive disorder. The participants were divided into two groups to receive either the psychedelic or psycholytic treatment. Over the course of the treatment, several metrics were evaluated, including depression and pain severity, anxiety levels, and PTSD symptoms, to gauge the effectiveness of each approach.

The results, while not statistically significant due to the small sample size, suggest that both KAPT approaches can decrease symptoms of pain, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Interestingly, the psychedelic approach showed a more consistent and marked improvement across most measures. This indicates that higher doses of ketamine, possibly due to more profound altered states of consciousness, could be more effective in this therapeutic context.

Despite the promising results, the small scale and pilot nature of this study call for cautious optimism. The findings serve as a preliminary step towards larger, more definitive trials that could reshape the treatment landscape for patients suffering from chronic pain and depression. The exploration of different doses and routes of administration, as well as the combination with psychotherapy, opens new avenues for research and potential treatment protocols.

The study underscores the complexities of treating comorbid conditions and highlights the need for a personalized approach to therapy. It also raises questions about the long-term effects of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, the mechanisms behind its efficacy, and the ethical considerations in administering such treatments.

This editorial review of the study emphasizes the potential of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy as a significant advancement in treating chronic pain and depression. While more research is needed to confirm and refine these findings, the study contributes valuable insights into the integration of pharmacological and psychological therapies, promising a new horizon in mental health and pain management.


“In our clinical practice, we’ve observed that microdosing during therapy significantly enhances openness and honesty in discussions about deeply held thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. This approach helps deactivate the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is often constantly activated in individuals with chronic depression. By integrating methods like EMDR with carefully administered psychedelic doses, we’re able to tap into the brain’s neuroplasticity, effectively rewiring negative beliefs and forging new, positive neural pathways. Although our study involves a small sample, the consistent results we see in our clinical practice are promising and underline the transformative potential of this integrative approach to mental health and well-being.” – Shari B. Kaplan, LCSW