A history of prescription ketamine, the drug Elon Musk says he takes

Drug has been used for surgeries, to relieve pain and to treat depression

Tesla titan Elon Musk recently told CNN’s Don Lemon he uses ketamine — a dissociative anesthetic introduced into clinical practice during the 1960s — to treat depression.

Scientists still don’t really know how it works, according to Julaine Allan, a National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre senior living fellow and Rural Health Research Institute CSU associate professor.

Allan explained in a report in the Conversation that ketamine was first used in surgery and to relieve pain. At certain doses, users can remain awake but experience a sensation as if they were disconnected from their bodies. This makes the drug useful for paramedics, for instance, who often need to talk to their patients while simultaneously mitigating their pain.

Although ketamine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a general anesthetic in 1970, it wasn’t until 1994 that reports began to surface of patients feeling improved depression symptoms following surgeries that used the drug.

By 2000, clinical trial results on the effectiveness of ketamine as a treatment for depression were becoming available.

“While this might sound like a lot of research, it’s not,” Allan told the Conversation. “A recent review of randomized controlled trials conducted up to April 2023 looking at the effects of ketamine for treating depression found only 49 studies involving a total of 3,299 patients worldwide. In comparison, in 2021 alone, there were 1,489 studies being conducted on cancer drugs.”

Information on the illicit use of ketamine is also limited, despite the drug having been used recreationally since the 1970s. Users have reported feeling euphoric, trance-like, floating and dreamy. Deaths reported from illicit ketamine use are generally because of accidents or the use of ketamine in combination with other drugs, and no deaths have been reported concerning the use of ketamine in a treatment setting.

“There are times when I have sort of a … negative chemical state in my brain, like depression I guess, or depression that’s not linked to any negative news, and ketamine is helpful for getting one out of the negative frame of mind,” Musk told Lemon. The X (formerly known as Twitter) owner added he has a prescription for the drug from “an actual, real doctor” and uses “a small amount once every other week or something like that.”