What is Anxiety? Anxiety is a feeling of unease, fear, or worry. It’s our body’s natural response to stress.

For example, you may feel anxious, worried, and nervous during an exam, a job interview, or a medical test. Anxiety might cause rapid heartbeats, hyperventilation, panic, and trembling. Occasional anxiety is a natural response; however, anxiety disorders are different. When this occasional anxiety turns into a long-term, persistent one, the symptoms and triggers will worsen. It will affect our daily routines, such as avoiding work, school, family, members, close friends, and everyday social situations.

Here comes the urge to use ketamine for anxiety treatment.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 40 million adults, or 18% of U.S. adults ages 18 and older, in a given year.

3 Types of anxiety disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a long-lasting condition in which you constantly feel worried and tense. You may have trouble controlling your worry, even though you know it’s excessive or irrational.

Panic Disorder is characterized by repeated attacks of overwhelming fear that strike suddenly and without warning. During these attacks, you may have chest pain, heart palpitations, breathlessness, sweating, or nausea; feel dizzy or lightheaded; experience muscle weakness.

These attacks can lead to avoidance of situations where panic has occurred in the past and can develop into agoraphobia (fear of being outside of your safe place).

Social Anxiety Disorder is a phobia from everyday social situations. It involves intense fear of being watched and judged by others and fears that you will do something embarrassing or humiliating during social interactions. Social anxiety disorder is often accompanied by depression, low self-esteem, and embarrassment about not performing well enough in ordinary situations.

Side effects of anxiety that affect your life

Anxiety might be a natural stress response; however, long-term anxiety might lead to chronic physical and mental health conditions. One of the physical conditions is breathing and respiratory changes. Anxiety causes hyperventilation, a rapid and shallow way of breathing that results in dizziness and feeling faint and weak.

Another condition is cardiovascular responses and heart health. Studies have suggested that the risk of heart disease increases in people having long-term anxiety. Patterns of rapid breathing and heart palpitations are common during anxiety. Those symptoms cause a constant rush of stress hormones at high levels that may lead to coronary problems (heart disease or heart attack) and high blood pressure.

Another side effect of this frequent rush in stress hormones, in addition to the fight or flight response, is making it hard for our bodies to return to their rested state. This leaves our immune system impaired and vulnerable to illness and infections.

Additionally, constant worry and anxiety may lead to gastrointestinal disorders such as chronic digestion and excretory problems. This problem is accompanied by excessive bloating and cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome, and many others.

Muscle tension and chronic pain conditions are also severe effects of anxiety. Our muscles contract or tighten often during the stress response signaled by our central nervous system. This constant muscle tension leads to cramped, sore muscles and pains that spread throughout the body. Arthritis and fibromyalgia are examples of the chronic pain conditions anxiety might cause.

Last, continued experiences of untreated anxiety can lead to depression. If not treated properly, those effects can affect us profoundly and be lifelong issues.

Treatments for Anxiety

Treatments fall under three main categories to overcome the symptoms of anxiety:

1. Psychotherapy

It requires working with a therapist to reduce the symptoms. Psychotherapy is considered an effective treatment for anxiety. The most effective form of this treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which mainly focuses on teaching specific patients skills to help improve their symptoms and progressively regain the activities they’ve been avoiding due to anxiety. CBT also includes exposure therapy, where patients gradually encounter the situation triggering their anxiety. This procedure helps build the confidence to manage this triggering situation and control anxiety symptoms.

2. Complemental health techniques

Those techniques include yoga, mindfulness, and self-management strategies. They are considered alternative methods to treat anxiety.

3. Medication

There are several types of drugs used to treat anxiety. A doctor or psychiatrist should guide the patient and prescribe the most suitable medicine. The most commonly prescribed types are anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs.

Typically, modern antidepressants, SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SNRIs (Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors), are the first drugs to be prescribed. Another type of antidepressant that works differently from SSRIs and SNRIs is a Benzodiazepine. These medications might take up to 6 or 12 weeks to show their effect, and some might not work for all patients.

Ketamine is another medication that is currently being prescribed off-label to treat anxiety disorders, among other mental health issues such as depression and chronic pain. We will talk more about Ketamine treatments.

Ketamine for anxiety: Usage

The 1950s saw the original development of ketamine. Still, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was used for medical procedures, as its pain-reducing and sedative effects made it the perfect general anesthetic. Researchers have recently been studying and investigating the potential use of ketamine to treat various mental health conditions, including anxiety.

How does Ketamine work in treating anxiety

Ketamine rapidly increases the activity of a hormone in the brain called Glutamate. As opposed to traditional anti-anxiety medications, which boost other brain chemicals, such as serotonin, before they target Glutamate.

To understand why this is important, we need first to understand the role of Glutamate, which is not only one of the brain’s chemical messengers but also plays a significant role in learning, mood regulation, and memory.

Glutamate also factors into your brain’s ability to adjust and accommodate to every new experience you have, or what is known as neuroplasticity. It does so by increasing neuroplasticity, which led researchers to believe that ketamine may assist in “re-mapping” your brain by disrupting problematic or harmful thought patterns and assisting you in forming new pathways. These new pathways can help relieve anxiety symptoms by allowing you to create more positive thoughts.

Ketamine’s ability to immediately activate Glutamate can translate to faster results, which sets it aside from other anti-anxiety medications. According to Kai Lewis, a licensed marriage and family therapist:

ketamine can help to relieve anxiety in as little as 2 hours, unlike the 2-6 weeks it takes for anti-anxiety medications.

Kai Lewis

Ketamine prescription for your Anxiety

If you are facing signs of anxiety, you might be a candidate to try ketamine as a solution for the symptoms. As a non-profit at RIVER foundation, we are happy to offer the opportunity to get affordable ketamine treatments as a part of our research project. 

You can book a call with one of our RIVER pathfinders, who will answer all your questions related to ketamine treatment for anxiety. Your pathfinder will then refer you to a licensed physician. During an online (telehealth) visit, the doctor will decide whether you are the right candidate for at-home sublingual ketamine therapy and issue a ketamine prescription.