POTOMAC, Md. - It is used for tranquilizing animals in a veterinarian's office. On the streets, it can be highly addictive and even lethal in high doses. Now, the drug ketamine is being used to treat depression.
"You can see colors, shapes, some people apparently hear sounds," said Steven Carlo. "It gives your brain a time to relax - almost reset itself."
Carlo is entering what is known as a ketamine state in a doctor's office under the supervision of medical professionals. After decades of dealing with depression, he says this has changed his life for the better.
"Being depressed quite honestly, it sucks," he said. "It sucks the life out of you and there is not much you can do."
Every few weeks, he comes in for a ketamine infusion.
Ketamine is a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug used in veterinarian offices and on a military battlefield. But it is also known on the streets as "Special K" - a drug abused by late night partiers looking to get high.
Dr. Patricia Frischtak, a psychiatrist with Actify Neurotherapies, says many patients ask her if the drug being used is the same as "Special K."
"Yes, but not really," Frischtak said. "You have to use dosages that are at least 100 times higher than what we use to treat depression."
During the 40-minute infusion, patients say they do enter a euphoric-like state. However, they also say it is 48 hours later when the real mood-lifting effects of ketamine kick in.
"It's incredible as a physician to see how quickly it works as opposed to medications that take four to six weeks to kick in if they do work at all," said Dr. Frischtak.
"Certainly after my first infusion, I found myself smiling naturally," said Carlo. "I found myself humming, which is not something I normally do. But I felt that much more in touch with myself and my family around me."
Carlo is one of 2,000 other patients locally who say these treatments work. However, not many other psychiatrists and doctors are on board right now.
Actify Neurotherapies is only one of 10 offices in the country that offer the ketamine infusion procedure.
"We believe it is just a matter of time to have ketamine approved by the FDA for use in depression treatment and suicidality," said Dr. Frischtak. "Those are the main areas that ketamine really works with and we have a lot of evidence-based research backing this up."