Nicole Safran was angry. After several years of different migraine treatments, one of her pain doctors suggested that it might be time to try a drug called ketamine. “Absolutely not,” she told her doctor. She knew about the drug’s shady past as a party drug known as “special K” and she didn’t want to be linked to it in any way.
But Safran was getting desperate. She had developed chronic migraine after a train accident in 2016 when she was 25. Years later, she was still trying to regain control of her life.
In retrospect, says Safran, she likely had undiagnosed symptoms of migraine from childhood, most obviously abdominal pain and nausea. But after the accident, which caused a serious concussion, her symptoms increased exponentially.
She had throbbing pain in her head, jaw, neck, and sinus area, tingling in the back of her head, light sensitivity, tinnitus, and phantom smells and visual effects (auras), among other symptoms. Doctors diagnosed chronic intractable migraine. “I basically had some level of head pain and migraine symptoms every day,” Safran says. And on many of those days, her symptoms were debilitating.
The effects on her work life were immediate. Her managers were confused. She simply wasn’t able to do what she could do before the accident.
“I was very close to losing my job.”
Her social life took a hit as well. “I’ve lost many friends throughout the process, even though I learned they probably really weren’t friends to begin with. But that’s really challenging when you’re in your mid-20s, living in New York City and your whole world comes crashing down around you and you don’t really know what the future holds.”
“People just constantly dismiss you and think, ‘Oh, it’s just a headache,’” Safran says. “No! It’s so much more than that. It is a full-body disease. It impacts every aspect of my life.”
To make things worse, her response to a laundry list of standard medications and therapies had been patchy at best. She could get some moderate relief some of the time, but nothing seemed to really cut through the constant barrage of migraine symptoms for any length of time.
And so in June 2021, after a long discussion with her doctor and some reading about the therapeutic uses of ketamine, she decided to give it a try.