April 9, 2021

A Profound Experience Treating OCD with Ketamine

As I reflect back on the remarkable journey undertaken by a past patient in the face of severely debilitating OCD, I’m still amazed by the demonstrated power that ketamine has to quell obstructive thought loops and all-consuming worry.

A few years ago, I was referred to a patient who had been diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He was in his mid-twenties and had a long history of emotional issues that came about in early adolescence. I was skeptical to take his case due to the complications of his mental health history, but he appeared to need some guidance in navigating his ketamine treatments. He had three prior infusions and had experienced some genuine benefit, but it was bringing forward some deeply rooted issues from childhood and early adolescence that he could not get past. My skepticism was based on the OCD itself, as there had been very few documented cases in the research literature that supported good efficacy. 

In our first infusion together, it was apparent how his mind was racing throughout the infusion experience. He verbalized a number of things almost immediately and talked through the entire hour. He appeared to experience a wide range of emotions, often crying and feeling that he could not keep things in anymore. He suggested that his anxiety had gone away, and he was uncertain how to be himself without it, but felt that he was in control of himself, just in a different way. He even noted that he did not want this feeling to go away, but instead, wanted it to extend it into his daily life. 

At one point, he insisted that he felt like a kid again, being more carefree about his life and was able to shake the controls around him. As a consequence of the OCD, he anticipated the thought loop would continue; however, when he realized it had been broken, he started crying and exclaimed “it’s not looping anymore!” He felt a little worried about the constant catastrophizing that would occur around his thought process returning, which caused him to catastrophize even more, but finally realized that the feeling had abated, and he could go on with his life. All of these profound, life-altering realizations occurred during his fourth ketamine infusion.

In the final two infusions, his appearance had somewhat changed. He appeared lighter, more focused, and ready to resume the sessions. He seemingly enjoyed himself more without the impediment of fears, concerns, and worries. He even tried to dance during the fifth infusion, moving and gesticulating with his arms in a raver-type way. He cited in that same infusion that he felt like he found who he truly wanted to be in life and had the way to get there, and found significant comfort in this idea, even leading to him thinking about starting a family. 

During the final infusion, he told me that his OCD was completely gone and had not manifested since the fourth infusion. He also suggested that his drinking had decreased, he stopped smoking, and felt like he no longer needed alcohol to be social and to have fun. He also indicated that he had some aggressive tendencies that had vanished, leading him to enjoy his close friends better without the need for anger or frustration. He decided that his negative self-talk was no longer necessary and that he could feel positive about himself for the first time in his life, suggesting that his acute symptoms had been muzzled and that he could not hear them any longer. He said, “depression is like being dragged across a desert by a horse. There’s always new things to hit you until there’s nothing left.” He also felt like he had seen his future, and it was bright and promising.

We only saw each other a few times after that during a brief follow up and a booster session. He had been working in South America and felt like things were going really well. He checked in with me a few months later, saying that he was having the time of his life. He admitted the drinking had resumed, and worried that it was a little bit of self-medicating, but also said that he had not had any further OCD experiences or repetitive thoughts. He felt happy in his life and noted that he does not think it would have ever happened without the infusions and our work together. He was even talking about going back to school to finish his degree in order to truly find happiness and meaning in his life. I was very grateful to be introduced to him and for the work we completed together. While he may not know it, our experience together meant so much to me, as it showed me that there are far more therapeutic applications to ketamine than I initially thought.

If you or a loved one is struggling with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), ketamine is an absolute game changer. Expanding access to this life-saving therapy is a no-brainer after you’ve witnessed first-hand the degree of healing that can occur in patients like my friend and that is precisely why I have teamed with Tripsitter Clinic. 

Zackery Tedder
Zackery Tedder
M.A., LPA, National Therapy Director

Zackery Tedder is a veteran of the US Navy and was previously in the IT industry before diving into psychology. Since 2012, he has been practicing in the areas of psychological assessments related to mood disorders and trauma disorders, in addition to researching the synergy of psychedelic medicine and how therapeutic services could be integrated for better outcomes.