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Is Ketamine Legal in Washington DC?

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Written by Deborah Tan, Avesta Ketamine Wellness Co-CEO

Ketamine is illegal for recreational use and legal for regulated medical purposes in Washington, D.C. The District of Columbia adheres to federal drug laws, which regulate ketamine possession, classification, and distribution throughout the US. 

Ketamine Laws in the US

The US government classifies ketamine as a Schedule III controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defines Schedule III substances as drugs with moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence and accepted medical use. 

DEA Building

As a result, the federal government allows ketamine as an anesthetic in hospitals and veterinary clinics. Licensed providers can also prescribe ketamine off-label for treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and chronic pain conditions. 

Decades of clinical evidence support ketamine for mental health and chronic pain. However, the FDA has not explicitly approved it for these conditions, leaving practitioners to develop their own treatment protocols.

Esketamine (Spravato™) is the exception to the rule. Spravato™ is an intranasal spray made from a ketamine derivative compound. The spray received FDA approval in 2019 for major depressive disorder, requiring patients to receive the medication under supervision in a clinical office and remain supervised for at least two hours.

Ketamine Infusions in Bethesda, MD, McLean, VA and Washington, DC

Ketamine Clinic Regulations in the US

Licensed clinicians are authorized to administer and prescribe ketamine in DC and throughout the US as long as they follow Controlled Substances guidelines. All clinics must register with the DEA and comply with state-specific medical, drug, and facility statutes and local licensing and permitting requirements

However, ketamine clinics do not have to follow specific administration or safety protocols. That’s because the FDA does not regulate ketamine clinics in the US, and states typically do not either. 

Lack of oversight means clinics exist along a broad spectrum of quality and safety levels. To overcome this gap, organizations like the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, the VA Medical Advisory Panel, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created ketamine therapy guidelines for ethical and efficient practices.

legal ketamine therapy in DC infographic

Ketamine therapy is legal in Washington, D.C., based on its classification as a Schedule III controlled substance. DC ketamine clinics prescribe and administer ketamine therapy for specific medical purposes. 

The most common forms of ketamine therapy are intravenous (IV) infusion, intranasal esketamine (Spravato™), and prescription ketamine tablets and sprays. 

Intravenous (IV) Ketamine Infusion

Ketamine DC patients most commonly seek IV infusion therapy for their mental health concerns. IV therapy involves receiving the drug through a slow intravenous drip and experiencing rapid relief within hours. Other patients seek IV therapy to ease chronic pain from conditions like complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), migraines, and fibromyalgia.  

Regardless of the purpose, IV protocols involve moderate doses over several sessions, usually lasting 40 minutes to an hour each.

Intranasal Esketamine (Spravato™)

Spravato™ therapy in D.C. involves using esketamine nasal spray under clinical supervision. Patients receive an initial dose of 56 or 84 mg, followed by observation for at least two hours. During this period, clinicians monitor patients for potential side effects such as dizziness, dissociation, and elevated blood pressure. 

  • Initial Phase: Patients receive Spravato™ twice weekly for the first four weeks.
  • Maintenance Phase: Weekly or biweekly sessions follow for sustained benefits.

All Spravato™ sessions occur in ketamine clinics or doctors’ offices. Patients cannot request esketamine prescriptions for at-home use. 

Ketamine Infusions in Bethesda, MD, McLean, VA and Washington, DC

Prescription Ketamine in DC

Spravato™ is not available as a prescription for at-home consumption. But generic ketamine formulas are. 

Ketamine D.C. clinicians sometimes prescribe nasal sprays or lozenges as boosters to extend the medication’s benefits between sessions and after the protocol. In other cases, clinicians prescribe ketamine as a lower-dose alternative to intravenous (IV) therapy or intranasal Spravato. 

  • A ketamine nasal spray is a form of delivery that administers the medication through the nasal passages.
  • Ketamine lozenges are administered sublingually as tablets.

Clinicians typically recommend patients take nasal spray intermittently as needed to avoid misuse risks. Additionally, they typically screen out patients with substance use histories due to ketamine’s addictive potential. 

Recreational Ketamine Use in DC

Possessing Schedule III substances like ketamine in Washington, D.C., is a misdemeanor offense. First-time offenders could face 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Alternatively, they may receive probation. Successful completion of the probation period could result in a case dismissal. 

Subsequent ketamine possession convictions could result in up to five years in jail and $12,500 in fines.

State-by-State Ketamine Possession Rules

Like Washington DC, most states classify ketamine as a Schedule III controlled substance, and possession without a prescription typically leads to misdemeanor charges. In some places, drug treatment programs replace charges for personal possession—intent to sell results in more severe penalties.

Oregon was the first state to reclassify possession of small amounts of drugs to an administrative offense in 2022. Measure 110 meant that ketamine possession was a simple violation with a $100 fine and a mandatory mental health assessment. However, the state recently recriminalized possession and will start charging offenders with misdemeanor offenses again in September 2024.

Ketamine DC Clinics: Avesta Ketamine and Wellness

virginia ketamine therapy at avesta

Dozens of ketamine centers operate throughout Washington, D.C. However, Avesta’s ketamine DC clinic is known for its top-tier care.

Avesta offers safe, legal, and effective IV ketamine infusions and Spravato protocols for DC patients struggling with severe psychiatric conditions and chronic pain. It is the longest-running ketamine clinic in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area, adhering to strict, research-based protocols. 

Avesta’s Co-founder, Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, has 20 years of clinical experience and utilizes her wealth of knowledge to train fellow practitioners in the art of patient-centered care and the science of effective ketamine protocols. 

Under Dr. Eshkevari’s leadership, Avesta’s care team is committed to advocating for its clients, educating them on ketamine’s rapid antidepressant benefits, and supporting them on their journey to wholeness.

Contact Avesta’s DC ketamine clinic for a free consultation today

Ketamine Infusions in Bethesda, MD, McLean, VA and Washington, DC

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