Ketamine Stirs up Hope—and Controversy—as a Depression Drug

The next big depression treatment might be ketamine, but how best to use it remains unknown.

MICHAEL WAS ON the 55th floor of a high rise in an Asian capital, in a conference room, when his world cracked open. His heart began to race and the building felt as if it were swaying. “I’m dying,” he remembers thinking. He excused himself from his meeting and returned to his hotel room. His mind on fire, he wondered how to call for help, whether insurance would cover him, and what his wife and two daughters would think if he died here, half a world away from his home in Northern California. He tried lying down but it felt like he was rolling off the bed. He found that if he did jumping jacks while holding his breath, his chaotic mind calmed down.

Michael (who asked that his last name be withheld) didn’t die. His psychiatrist back in California diagnosed him with panic attacks and prescribed Xanax. It helped, but something had changed that day in Asia, and the panic attacks began to strike regularly—while driving his daughter to art class, at the office, at home. “Once I had broken that shell,” he tells me, “it became spontaneous.”

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