The blood of 10 victims was barely dry in Santa Fe, Texas, when America started to talk solutions. Again.
“More guns! More prisons!” shouted one camp. “More gun control! More mental health!” shouted the other.
Surprisingly, nobody shouted: “More ketamine!”
But maybe they should’ve. Known around warehouse parties and EDM shows as special K, ketamine is currently an illegal drug with drastic consequences involved for possessing it. But given recent findings that it treats depression and bipolar disorder, doctors are willing to consider whether or not it can help kids chill out enough to not shoot bullets during Algebra II. It’s a “breakthrough for suicidal children,” champions Scientific American.
“It’s the most effective antidepressant ever — that’s my opinion,” says Dr. Wade Grindle of Boulder Mind Care, a ketamine clinic. Ketamine doctors like Grindle say 75 to 80 percent of depressed patients respond positively to ketamine, and it reduces suicidal thoughts in as much as 90 percent of people. “It’s dramatic,” Grindle tells us. “It’s amazing.”
Usual drugs for depression, SSRIs like Prozac, only help about a third of those who try them.
Ketamine works two ways. First, it changes brain chemistry, triggering brain-derived neurotrophic factor — which regrows cells. Next, it creates an eerie out-of-body experience, where you feel like you’re standing behind yourself — similar to a first-person video game — for a new perspective on problems.
It’s becoming more accepted. The insurance group Kaiser Permanente now covers ketamine infusions for some depressed patients. The FDA is reviewing more than a few applications of the drug to approve in future medical settings.
Depression, bipolar disorder, mental instability and wanting to harm peers are related. The Parkland killer, one of the Columbine gunmen, and many other shooters were diagnosed with depression before they acted. If it’s possible for schools or parents to identify potential school shooters before they act, giving them therapy and support — and maybe ketamine — could set them straight.
Sounds outlandish. Yet four doctors we asked who both study and prescribe ketamine said it was an idea worth considering (but that they wouldn’t yet treat potential school shooters with it without concrete data).
The drug is perfectly safe for kids. It’s used on them in surgery all the time for pain. And in their mental health clinics along the Front Range, those same four doctors already treat kids with it, sometimes 14 years old or younger who were on the brink of suicide. After a few IV treatments, it turns most of them sunnier and more outgoing, they say.
Among adults who don’t respond to any other kind of treatment, ketamine works on half of them, studies show. And half of those go into full remission.
What’s more, it works near instantly. SSRIs take weeks, sometimes months, to take effect — not good when someone’s on the brink of succumbing to a bad decision.
And while using ketamine to treat school shooters is a pipe dream well into the future, it’s already treating victims of the phenomenon. Dr. Roman Langston, medical director of Vitalitas Denver, recently worked with a student who survived one of Colorado’s school shootings. It helped “a lot” with his PTSD, Langston said. (Which school shooting? “I don’t remember,” Langston said. “Colorado has had so many.”)
The drug isn’t without serious risks, however. Ketamine can be addictive, and too much can wreck your bladder. But with teen suicide rates near all-time highs, and school shootings always in fashion, America desperately needs answers. Less thoughts and prayers.
America is far from instituting requirements that ketamine be stocked in the nurse’s office. “High schools, they have no idea about it,” says Langston. But ketamine for angry teens is “likely coming,” says another doctor.
And here is a fact: pharmacies already sell child-friendly ketamine lollipops. An answer could possibly be where no one else is looking.