What was once used exclusively as an anesthetic is now a drug being used to treat depression. What drug are we talking about?Ketamine. Many recent studies have been done on this drug to determine whether its benefits extend beyond just an anesthetic. Though it is certainly hot on the party scene as one of the favorite recreational drugs, ketamine has potentially positive legal uses as well, the biggest of which is to aid with depression. Over the last few years, ketamine has become more available for people who suffer from depression. And this could be a massive benefit. Depression is at a nearly all-time high right now. According to a CDC article, between August 2020 and February 2021, the number of adults in the United States who showed “recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive order” increased 5.1% from 36.4% to 41.5%. Studies have shown that a COVID-19 infection “increased the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder, dementia, or insomnia.” This means even more new people potentially dealing with the struggles of depression.And this is where some doctors are bringing ketamine into the picture. Looking back 6 years ago, less than 60 ketamine clinics existed in the United States. Fast forward to 2018, and over 300 ketamine clinics were in operation. So, you can imagine how many clinics exist today as the studies on this drug have become greater.
Ketamine has increased in popularity as more and more studies have shown its efficacy for dealing with depression. The National Center for Biotechnology Information shared that anti-depressants can take between 4 and 12 weeks to show some relief for those suffering from a severe depressive disorder. This is the same for other approaches to depression, including talk therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and electroconvulsive therapy.Ketamine, however, has nearly immediate effects on depressive symptoms
as soon as 24 hours after administration.
If someone responds well to ketamine, Harvard Health Publishing says that “it can rapidly reduce suicidality (life-threatening thoughts and acts) and relieve other serious symptoms of depression.”
In addition to severe depression, ketamine is also used for treating less severe forms of depression that are often coupled with anxiety. According to katmineinfusion.org, “Ketamine infusion therapy is also one of the leading experimental therapies used to treat major depressive disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
How Does It Work?
You may be surprised to hear that people are still in the process of figuring out exactly how ketamine works because it isn’t obvious. Harvard Health Publishing believes that ketamine may bind to the NMDA receptors in your brain. It is shown that ketamine “appears to increase the amount of a neurotransmitter called glutamate in the spaces between neurons.” As a result, the glutamate activates connections in the AMPA receptor and between the two of them, cause your brain to release other molecules that “help neurons communicate with each other along new pathways.” This entire process, called synaptogenesis, is shown to have effects on your mood as well as your thought patterns. In addition to that, scientists theorize that ketamine may reduce signals that typically cause your brain to inflame. That inflammation can sometimes cause mood disorders, so ketamine may aid with that.
How Many Ketamine Treatments Does it Take?
Most people find that patients see relief from depression within one to three ketamine treatments, though many studies give the drug over an eight-week period to be more sure of its efficacy. How long ketamine remains active in your system will depend on your personal physical characteristics. However, most find relief from physical symptoms for several days, while an uplift in mood can last months or even years after treatment.
Types of Ketamine
Two major types of ketamine are used to treat depression. It is important to note that the dosage of ketamine given for depression is much lower than that needed for anesthesia.
This type of ketamine is usually injected right into the bloodstream and thus is also known as IV ketamine. It has both R and S molecules in it. This drug was approved by the FDA many years ago as an anesthetic.
This type of ketamine is usually given as a nasal spray. It only has the S molecule in it and was just recently approved by the FDA in March 2019.
Any drugs you take have the potential to cause side effects. Everybody is different, so it can’t always be determined what the side effects are.However, as evidenced by the number of doctors using ketamine to aid with depression, the potential benefits of this drug may be greater than the risks. Here are some things to be aware of if given a ketamine IV:
- Nausea and vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Changes in perception (things such as time seeming slower or faster than it is, seeing colors, textures, hearing stimulating noises, blurry vision)
- Dissociation (or an out-of-body experience), though this is rare
Harvard Health Publishing says that “generally, any changes in perception or dissociation are most noticeable in the first infusion and end very quickly afterward.”
Though the studies of this drug have shown that it has the potential to help those with depression, there is an issue with access. Some people may not easily access this drug because though ketamine is a legal drug, it is not approved for depression yet. Thus it is not often covered by health insurance.
Cost can also be a factor when it comes to treatment. According to the Ketamine Advocacy Network, “in the United States, it costs between $400-800 per ketamine infusion plus there is an initial fee for consultation and assessment of around $350.” The cost of infusion will depend on your location and the dosage administered. If you’re interested in ketamine treatment, we recommend you speak with your primary care physician to see it would be a good treatment option for you.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Consult with your doctor before beginning any treatment or medication.