A Parent’s Guide to Ketamine Therapy For Teens: Helping Your Child’s Depression, Anxiety & Trauma

Depression / IV Therapy / Mental Health / Sara Bricker, BSN, RN

A Parent’s Guide to Ketamine Therapy For Teens: Helping Your Child’s Depression, Anxiety & Trauma

Medically reviewed on March 29, 2024, by Beth Ballen, MD


If you’ve struggled to find relief for your teen’s mental health challenges, ketamine treatment might be the breakthrough solution you’re looking for.

Safe, effective, and fast-acting, ketamine therapy is a game-changing treatment for clinical depression, anxiety, and trauma. Even if your child’s symptoms have been labeled treatment-resistant.

As a parent, seeing your teen grapple with depression, anxiety, or trauma is a heart-wrenching experience.

While traditional medications are effective for some, they often fall short — especially if your child has treatment-resistant symptoms or if rapid intervention is crucial. Not to mention the fact that many of us would love to avoid psychiatric medication for our children altogether.

Enter ketamine infusions, a truly game-changing option for teens suffering from mental health issues.

Helping your teen with ketamine therapy might sound scary at first — but we promise it’s worth considering

Currently, ketamine is the only rapid-action prescription for depression on the market. It also helps treats anxiety, PTSD, and complex trauma. Ketamine can even eliminate the need for other psychiatric drugs in some cases.

If the idea of giving your child ketamine sounds daunting or scary, you’re far from alone. At our Denver ketamine clinic, we safely administer infusions to adolescents and teens from 13-18 years old, and even younger in select cases. If there’s one thing these patients and their parents have in common though, it’s anxiety about trying a treatment with effects similar to a psychedelic.

This is where the right information and guidance is crucial, however. Ketamine is not only incredibly effective — it’s also extremely safe. It’s been on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines for over half a century, and one of its common uses is as an anesthetic for pediatric surgeries. In other words, ketamine has already been in use for younger populations for many years.

Let’s explore this innovative solution for teen mental health issues and help you decide if it might be worth trying with your teen.

The Alarming Rise Of Teen Depression and Anxiety

Over the past 10-15 years, there’s been a startling surge in adolescent depression and anxiety. According to the most recent national survey on mental health, 1 in 5 teens suffered a major depressive episode in the past year. And around 15% had experienced severe impairment in major areas of their lives.

Factors like social media, isolation, academic pressures, and trauma have contributed to this crisis. The consequences are devastating — plummeting self-esteem, fractured relationships, falling academic achievement, and elevated risks of substance abuse and suicide.

There is good news though. And reason for hope. Ketamine infusions have demonstrated astounding efficacy for depression, anxiety, processing trauma, and even suicidality — all with higher success rates than standard medications.

In our center, we’ve observed 75% of patients of all ages show significant improvement in their depression and anxiety symptoms after ketamine treatment. And this figure becomes over 90% when treating depression alone — even if symptoms have been labeled treatment-resistant.

What is ketamine? And what’s the best form of administration for teens and adolescents?

Ketamine (full name: ketamine hydrochloride) is a rapid-acting dissociative anesthetic agent that works by blocking certain receptors in the brain and spinal cord. The result is relief from pain as well as the growth of new neurons.

Though initially approved as an anesthetic, it was discovered that sub-anesthetic doses of racemic ketamine can provide fast-acting antidepressant effects as well as help with anxiety symptoms. Research confirms its safety in teens/adolescents, and in fact Ketamine has been used safely in pediatric populations for decades as an anesthetic and pain reliever.

In many cases it is most effectively administered via IV infusion (intravenous ketamine) or intramuscular injection (IM ketamine) although smaller doses are possible via nasal sprays, pills, and sublingual administration. Studies show that IV and IM ketamine can have longer lasting effects than other methods, and the experience itself is often deeper and more profound with these two methods.

At our integrative mental health center, we offer at-home oral ketamine troches in addition to IV infusions, however we generally prescribe oral ketamine as a maintenance treatment and not a primary treatment, as studies show the lower doses of at-home ketamine are not as effective. They are also less studied, as IV ketamine is often the type used in research and trials.

Why we prefer ketamine infusions over IM injections

At our clinic, we’ve offered all of the different routes of administration over the years and have found the best, most consistent results with IV ketamine infusions (intravenous ketamine). IM ketamine injections can feel too intense for many of our patients, as they have a fast ramp-up to their peak intensity.

Infusions have a more gentle ramp-up, and then a prolonged period of intensity that almost reaches the same peak as IM injections. 

Perhaps the biggest benefit of infusions, however, is that they allow the IV nurse to change the rate of the drip during a session. If a patient seems uncomfortable, or desires a stronger experience, the rate and intensity can be adjusted accordingly.

Is ketamine treatment under 18 new?

One of the reasons ketamine can seem scary to parents is that it feels like a new, untested treatment. While it’s true that ketamine’s use in mental health is more recent, it’s actually been safely in use since the early 1960’s in both adult and pediatric populations. 

At our clinic we’ve been providing ketamine for depressive symptoms and other mood disorders for over 11 years. After thousands of successful sessions and patient recoveries we find it to be one of the most effective, safest medical interventions we know of.

Here’s a brief timeline of how ketamine went from an anesthetic to a new gold standard in mental health treatment:

Infographic on the evolution of ketamine's use for mental health purposes

Are you looking for ketamine treatment in Denver?

Let's find your loved ones the relief they deserve. Contact us today for a free 15-minute ketamine consultation with one of our patient care coordinators.

Ketamine vs. Psychiatric Medications

Ketamine Infusions have several advantages over antidepressant medication and other standard psychiatric medicine:

  • Faster relief: Ketamine infusion therapy works much faster than standard antidepressants, providing effects within hours or days. This rapid response is vital for those experiencing suicidal ideation.
  • Help with treatment-resistant symptoms: Use of ketamine can help reduce symptoms in the majority of cases labeled as treatment-resistant.
  • Reduced side effects: Ketamine has fewer side effects compared to traditional antidepressants. Most of ketamine’s side effects disappear within hours of the treatment.
  • Simultaneous relief from anxiety, depression, and trauma: Ketamine can help with co-occurring disorders, potentially reducing the need for separate medications.

It’s important to note that psychiatric medication management still has its role in treating mental health issues for your teen, but ketamine can be used concurrently with other medications in most cases. At our center, we often suggest ketamine treatment as a temporary bridge to bring fast relief while medication has time to take effect.

Ketamine and Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy)

At our center, we believe it’s essential for teens undergoing ketamine treatment to also engage in psychotherapy. Adolescent/teen therapy and ketamine work well together, with ketamine helping to accelerate the progress your child can make in therapy sessions. Together, they can address environmental and psychosocial issues, such as bullying, identity, academic pressures, or family conflict. Medication might help relieve symptoms, but it can’t address the root causes.

One of the ways ketamine enhances therapy is by facilitating access to deep-seated parts of ourselves, including repressed memories or thoughts. Ketamine can temporarily loosen these protective mechanisms, leading to greater insights and breakthrough moments in therapy.

An Important Note About Ketamine and Trauma

If your teen is navigating PTSD, CPTSD, or other trauma, their ketamine treatment can require extra care. Ketamine can bring up difficult memories, potentially making your teen feel worse before they feel better. It’s crucial to help them understand that these negative feelings are an essential step in processing and releasing their trauma. With younger patients, it’s especially important to help them process their experiences with ketamine and prepare them for potential effects like dissociation or altered vision.

Understanding Dissociation in Ketamine Treatment

Dissociation is a temporary altered state of consciousness characterized by detachment from one’s surroundings, thoughts, or self. During dissociation, your child might feel as if they’re floating, watching events from a distance, or observing themselves from outside their body. Some describe it as a dreamlike state, with vivid imagery or brief, movie-like scenes. Dissociation is temporary, and not everyone experiences it during treatment. The likelihood varies based on individual sensitivity and dosage. Furthermore, dissociation is not necessary for ketamine infusions to be effective.

Step-by-Step: What to Expect During a Ketamine Infusion

  1. Initial Consultation: A thorough assessment and medical evaluation determines if ketamine is the right fit. At our center, this is done with an integrative psychiatrist (MD) or an integrative nurse practitioner (NP).
  2. Preparing for the Infusion: Patients are advised to have a light meal a few hours before the treatment and wear comfortable clothing.
  3. The Infusion Process: The infusion lasts about 40 minutes, followed by another 30-40 minutes of “clearing” — relaxing as the ketamine leaves the system. Patients remain seated, wearing eyeshades, and may listen to special music to enhance the experience.
  4. Post-Infusion: Some drowsiness or dizziness might be experienced. Teens of driving age must not drive for 12-24 hours after their session. Most can resume normal activities the next day.
  5. Initial Series and Follow-Up: Most patients have an initial series of 6-9 infusions over 2-3 weeks. Follow-up sessions are scheduled based on individual needs.

Risks and Side Effects of Ketamine Treatment for Teens

Is ketamine treatment safe for teens and adolescents?

As a parent, your child’s safety is undoubtedly your top priority. It’s natural to have concerns about any medical treatment, especially something as clouded in mystery — and misinformation — as ketamine therapy.

Here’s the good news about ketamine’s safety record:

Ketamine has a well-established safety profile when administered in a controlled medical setting by experienced professionals. It has been used as an anesthetic for decades, including in pediatric populations. The doses used for mental health treatment are much lower than those used for anesthesia, further reducing the risk of complications.

It’s also important to put the safety profile of ketamine treatment in context. Untreated depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can have serious, long-lasting consequences for your child’s development and well-being. Ketamine therapy has shown remarkable success in providing rapid relief from these symptoms, often when other treatments have failed.

While no medical treatment is without risks, we believe that the potential benefits of ketamine therapy often outweigh the risks for many young patients struggling with mental health challenges. This is especially true when the risk of suicide is present, but we believe this is also true in many milder states of depression and anxiety where your child’s life is impacted negatively.

What are the side effects and risks of ketamine therapy?

Side effects often come up in conversation about ketamine, but it’s important to note the majority of these effects are temporary and subside shortly after the treatment session as ketamine flushes from the body.

At our clinic, most common short-term side effects we see are nausea, dizziness, headaches, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and visual effects. Any nausea can be mitigated with zofran or other anti-nausea medication, and it’s rare that ketamine patients of any age actually vomit.

Dissociation is another possible short-term side effect, but this isn’t necessarily a negative effect. Dissociation can even pleasant, and many patients find dissociative ketamine experiences among the more insightful and helpful although it’s important to note that dissociation isn’t necessary for ketamine treatment to be effective. Like all the side effects of ketamine, understanding them in advance can greatly reduce any distress or discomfort from them. This is especially true of the more psychedelic-like effects from ketamine, such as dissociation and visual distortions.

Lastly, blood pressure rate and heart rate are monitored every several minutes in person at our clinic. We would advise staying away from clinics that rely on video monitoring. We would also advise choosing in-person ketamine therapy over at-home treatment because of the medical supervision that’s only possible in person.

Are there any long-term risks with ketamine therapy for teens?

Regarding long-term risks, the most significant concern is the potential for bladder issues with frequent, high-dose use. However, this risk is primarily associated with recreational misuse of ketamine and is extremely rare in the context of supervised medical treatment. We carefully monitor dosing and frequency to minimize any potential long-term effects.

Learn More About Ketamine Treatment For Teens and Adolescents Under 18 In Englewood, Colorado and the Denver Area

As a parent, the decision to give any kind of medical treatment to
your child is a significant one. However, major depressive disorders and
anxious depression among young people can have lasting impacts on their
overall well-being, academic success, and social development. Untreated
depression also significantly raises the risk of addiction and

We encourage anyone considering this treatment to learn more by
speaking to knowledgeable medical professionals who can review your
child’s specific needs as well as individual factors like medical
history and other important considerations.

If you’re in the Denver area, we’d be honored to assist you and address any questions or concerns you might have. Please call (720)222-0550 to book your appointment, or visit here to schedule a free consultation with a knowledgeable member of our patient care team.


Frequently Asked Questions About Ketamine Therapy For Teens

How old do you have to be for ketamine therapy? Is it safe to do ketamine treatment under 18?

At our clinic, teen and adolescent patients ages 13-17 are often good candidates for ketamine therapy, especially if other interventions aren’t working. Patients under 13 can also be candidates, especially if suicidal thinking is present and rapid intervention is prudent. We perform thorough assessments to determine appropriateness on a case-by-case basis.

Is ketamine therapy safe for teenagers? What are the risks?

Ketamine has been used safely in pediatric populations for decades as an anesthetic and pain reliever. When administered in a medical setting by qualified staff, ketamine therapy carries minimal risks. Potential side effects include dissociation, nausea, headache, and dizziness — most of which resolve shortly after the infusion.

What mental health conditions can ketamine therapy for teens help treat?

Ketamine has demonstrated efficacy treating teen depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, trauma-related conditions, OCD, and more. It can also rapidly reduce suicidal thoughts. Additionally, it may play a role managing chronic pain, inflammation, and addiction disorders in some cases.

What are the potential side effects of ketamine therapy in teens?

Temporary side effects teens may experience include: dissociation/unreal feelings, blurred vision, headache, nausea, elevated blood pressure, and drowsiness. These typically go away within hours after infusions. There are no known long-term side effects of professionally-administered ketamine at therapeutic doses based on current research.

How does ketamine treatment for teens differ from adults?

For teens, we use lower doses tailored to body weight, with more gradual increases than typical adult protocols. Sessions may involve greater psychotherapy support before and after. More education is provided on what to expect. Overall the process is very similar, with adjustments to serve the individual needs and concerns of each patient.

Can ketamine therapy be combined with other treatments for teen mental health?

Absolutely. We take an integrative approach that may combine ketamine with psychotherapy, family therapy, medication management, nutritional supplementation and IV therapy, mindfulness techniques, and other modalities to support teens mentally, emotionally and physically.

How long does a typical ketamine treatment course last for teens? How many infusions will my teen need?

Most patients require an initial series of 6-9 ketamine infusions over 2-3 weeks to achieve therapeutic benefits. After that, maintenance sessions may be recommended, with frequency varying based on the individual and their response over time. Our medical team will work with you to determine the ideal infusion schedule.

Can ketamine be combined with my teen’s current medication?

In most cases, yes. Ketamine can be used in conjunction with antidepressants or other psychiatric medications a teen is already prescribed. Our medical team will review all current medications and determine if any adjustment is necessary.

What kind of support should parents provide during their teen’s ketamine therapy?

Prior to treatment, it’s important to make sure your child has an open, nonjudgemental space to share any questions or concerns. If they have specific anxieties or fears about the treatment and you need help discussing with them, let us know and we’ll be happy to help support you. More practical items for supporting your adolescent or teen during treatment include: transportation to/from appointments when needed, attending some sessions with them, asking questions, processing experiences together, encouraging psychotherapy participation, and providing healthy nutrition/sleep hygiene support at home.

Let's get your child feeling like themselves again

Contact us today for a free 15-minute ketamine consultation with one of our patient care coordinators. We'll be happy to answer any questions you have, and start your family on a path to better relief.
Sara Bricker, BSN, RN

Sara Bricker, BSN, RN

Sara is passionate about IV therapy and the role it plays in the emerging fields of integrative health and psychedelic medicine. As the manager of our infusion suite, she specializes in integrative infusion therapy for mental health, wellness, addiction recovery, and optimizing physical and cognitive performance. Sara prides herself on continuously furthering her education as well as doing her best to share her expertise with her clients and fellow practitioners. As a champion of patient-centered care, she enjoys working with her IV nursing team to ensure her clients get the best care possible — including the best results.

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