Ketamine Infusions for Mental Health? Alli Waddell Explains
Alli Waddell stands for radical honesty, self-awareness, and self-love. She believes that only when we heal ourselves can we heal the world — a sentiment that rings true for me personally.
She has been recognized as an expert in the wellness industry for nearly two decades, empowering people to create and maintain healthy and happy lives. As a coach, speaker, and co-founder of Illumma, Austin’s premier ketamine infusion clinic, Waddell is a lifeline of healing and holistic well-being.
Everyone is put on this earth with a purpose and a mission to express their light. But, many times, trauma and life circumstances can cause that light to dim — to be blocked out by fear, depression, and anxiety. At Illumma, Waddell helps people shine bright again. Her patients rediscover, remember, and reconnect with that amazing spirit that they previously believed was beyond their reach.
Illumma provides tools for lifelong personal transformation, and when I discovered everything that Waddell was doing there I knew I had to chat with her. We discussed everything you need to know about ketamine, how it can help with mental health issues and chronic pain, and how to access it if you think you may benefit from it.
What is ketamine?
Ketamine is a type of anesthesia. It was originally developed by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in the 1960s as battlefield anesthesia because it doesn’t slow down the heart rate or respiration like morphine does. Today, ketamine is the world’s most widely used anesthesia for the same reasons. It’s safe to use in adults, children, and even animals. Small doses of ketamine can also help with pain.
As the VA continued to use ketamine instead of morphine for pain, they began to notice some interesting side effects. They saw that soldiers who received ketamine were not having issues with PTSD and trauma as compared to those who were given morphine. They recognized that something was happening thanks to this low dose of ketamine — it was helping people.
After this discovery, scientists and doctors began to consider what low-dose ketamine treatments could do for people struggling with mental health issues. They saw that folks experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD trauma, unhealthy thought loops, eating disorders, and OCD could really benefit from it. And, as the opioid crisis in the United States continues to persist, there have been studies that show that ketamine is more beneficial than using opioids.
Using ketamine for mental health and chronic pain
Doctors who study ketamine and its uses have found that it works almost exactly like psilocybin or magic mushrooms. That said the two substances use two slightly different mechanisms. Psilocybin works with serotonin (a chemical in the brain) and ketamine triggers something called a dissociative experience. It breaks the connection between your frontal lobe and the rest of your brain, and when that happens you experience what some people call “ego death” or “leaving the body.”
It works as a reboot for your brain — you’re able to disassociate from who you are as a person in a body. You become an observer of yourself and your mind and you’re able to get these very big perspective shifts. It makes sense when you think about it: if you were the observer of your life, would you act differently? Would you see things differently if you were observing how things are occurring in your life versus as you experience them?
The answer to these questions is a resounding “yes.” After years of depression, anxiety, and stress, parts of your brain will start to atrophy and you end up stuck in thought pattern rifts. As much as you would love to be able to just think your way out of them, those who have struggled with these types of issues know that it’s easier said than done. Ketamine allows you to jumpstart the process because it turns on certain neural pathways in your brain. These pathways will help you shift your perspective and get your life back.
Ketamine also floods the brain with brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF). That’s why the perspective shift experienced under the influence of the drug lasts much longer after it’s already gone through your system.
It can also be really helpful for folks with chronic pain. Oftentimes pain disorders are very closely tied to mental health. Alli says that fibromyalgia and generalized pain can almost always be traced back to trauma, anxiety, and depression. She works with these patients to find the root cause of trauma so that their pain — both physically and mentally — lifts at the same time.
Now it’s important to note that ketamine is not magic. It’s essential to integrate new ways of thinking and behaving in tandem with the treatments. But, it is an incredible tool that could help you do very drastic breakthrough work that could normally take months or years to achieve with traditional therapy.
Things to know about ketamine
Because ketamine is often compared to ayahuasca and magic mushrooms, some folks may be scared of having a dark dissociative experience. Alli says that while ketamine is a journey, it’s a lot less intense than other psychedelics. Ayahuasca can last between 12-15 hours, mushrooms 3-5 hours, and LSD upwards of 10 hours. Ketamine typically lasts for just one hour and most users don’t experience darkness.
That said, everyone’s experience will be slightly different. Ketamine can help you emotionally unpack things that may have been building up in your psyche. Some of those emotions can feel really challenging, especially if you’ve gone through trauma. But, another thing that ketamine can be really helpful for is learning how to surrender to those dark feelings and gain control over them.
This makes a big difference for people — even those with really complex trauma — because it empowers them to know that they’re in control in a way. They feel safe to wade into the dissociation and heavier emotions because they know that they’re in a really safe space.
Now that you understand who could benefit from ketamine treatments, it’s important to talk about who should stay away from it. If you have a personality disorder like borderline personality, narcissistic personality, bipolar psychosis, or schizophrenia, ketamine treatments can be dangerous. Because ketamine untethers you from reality, those who are already quite fragile could end up staying untethered.
If you don’t have a personality disorder, the negative side effects of ketamine are few and far between. The most common short-term effect is nausea, as ketamine is a type of anesthesia. The only long-term side effect that studies have shown is associated with abuse-level ketamine use. These are people who are doing ketamine every day with a super high dose.
If you want to try ketamine, work with an expert
It may be obvious, but Alli urges those who want to try it to do so in a facility like Illumma. Not only will you be guided by a medical professional, but there are also paramedics on site to assist if needed.
Alli has worked with people who experience mental and physical health issues as well as entrepreneurs who want to use ketamine as a breakthrough tool. It can help to provide confidence, clarity, and creativity — all things necessary for running a business. She does note that for most people, ketamine is a really great tool. But, you need to be aware that it’s going to bring stuff up and you have to be ready for that.
In order for the treatments to work, Alli sets her patients up for a series of infusions and it’s a very individual approach. She says that about 20% of her clientele comes in every 4-6 weeks. These are people who are really struggling with a specific issue and have seen that the treatments are really effective.
The majority of her patients will come in every 8-16 weeks — after a triggering life event or if they aren’t feeling great and want a “reboot.” Finally, she sees some people who come in for 6 sessions and it is so effective that she never sees them again. As you can see, it’s very individually based.
Whether you’re curious about what ketamine treatments can do for your mental health, chronic pain, or simply as an awakening for your creativity, it’s important to work with trusted professionals. The effects will only be as good as the treatments themselves and you’ll see the true benefits only if you work with someone like Alli and her team at Illumma.
Alli founded Illumma with her partner, a cardiac anesthesiologist in 2018. Since then they have performed 6,000 infusions for more than 500 patients. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to visit their website. You can also find them on Instagram and Facebook.
As always, you can listen to our full conversation on the Into the Dawn podcast.