What is Ketamine Therapy? Is It Effective at Treating Depression?

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Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the world. Approximately 300 million people worldwide experience depression. And while many of these individuals seek traditional clinical treatments with success, some don’t. 

For this reason, many people are looking at the efficacy of alternative therapies for depression, including ketamine therapy. 

Depression is a severe mood disorder that can profoundly impact daily activities. Symptoms of depression include prolonged periods of sadness, hopelessness, and irritability. Traditional treatments for depression include medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. 

However, these treatment methods often fail to work for some patients, such as those with major depressive disorder or treatment-resistant depression. 

How Does Ketamine Therapy Work?

Ketamine therapy is not a first-line treatment option, but it is increasingly considered when other treatment therapies fail. Ketamine is a rapid-action drug that can help to prevent suicidal thoughts. 

Ketamine is not a new drug; it has long been used as an anesthetic for patients undergoing surgery or diagnostic procedures. This drug also blocks pain and is also used to treat chronic pain conditions.  

However, ketamine treatment has been gaining popularity due to its antidepressant effects. Ketamine works to reduce suicidality and relieve other symptoms of depression. There are two primary types of ketamine used to treat those who suffer from depression:

  • Racemic ketamine (IV ketamine) is delivered as a ketamine infusion directly into the bloodstream, intramuscular injection, oral or intranasal. It has been FDA-approved as an anesthetic and used off-label for depression and anxiety.
  • Esketamine was FDA-approved in 2019 for major depression and acute suicidality and is administered as a nasal spray.

Both types of ketamine interact with receptors in the brain, though they work differently. It is unclear how ketamine works, although it has helped many individuals manage depression symptoms when other treatments have failed. While more research is needed on how ketamine works as an antidepressant, there are several theories for its efficacy.

  • Ketamine is thought to bind to and block NMDA receptors in the brain. It also increases the neurotransmitter glutamate, which activates AMPA receptors. The blocking of NMDA receptors combined with the activation of AMPA receptors leads to better neural communication along new pathways formed by synaptogenesis. This entire process can positively impact mood, thoughts, and cognition. 
  • Ketamine may also reduce signals involved in inflammation, which has been linked to mood disorders. 
  • Ketamine may facilitate communication within areas of the brain. 

It is likely a combination of these actions results in antidepressant effects that work to treat depression. In addition to depression, ketamine is used to treat posttraumatic stress disorder, other mood disorders, and chronic pain originating in the nervous system. 

Are There Side Effects with Ketamine Therapy? 

Ketamine is a medication, and like many other medications, it sometimes results in side effects. However, the doses used to treat depression are much lower than the doses of ketamine required for anesthesia. And the benefits often outweigh the risks for those with major depressive disorder or treatment-resistant depression. 

Both IV ketamine and esketamine nasal spray have similar side effects, although the timing and intensity may vary. Side effects of ketamine therapy may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Perceptual anomalies, such as time seeming to slow or quicken, blurry vision, or noises that seem to be very stimulating
  • Dissociation, or the feeling of having an out-of-body experience

These side effects are transient and rarely interfere with treatment. There is the side effect of interstitial cystitis, that has been shown in those who have long-term abuse of ketamine. 

Ketamine may also be addictive, and those with a history of substance abuse should consult with their physician before undergoing ketamine treatment. And while there is potential for addiction, it’s worth noting that when low doses of ketamine are administered in a clinical setting for depression treatment, the potential for addiction is low. This is especially true when the patient lacks access to ketamine at home.

How Long Does it Take for Ketamine Therapy to Work?

One of the drawbacks of many pharmaceutical antidepressants is the length of time required to take effect. These medications often take weeks or longer before patients begin to see an improvement in mood and a reduction in symptoms of depression. Ketamine therapy can start working within a few hours. For those with suicidal thoughts, this rapid action can save their life. 

While ketamine therapy works quickly, the initial effects of the drug can fade within one to three days. That is why it is recommended that a person have a series of ketamine sessions. The most common protocol is two sessions per week over three weeks.

Where Can I Seek Ketamine Therapy?

A few short years ago, very few clinics provided ketamine therapy for depression. Today, this treatment is far more prevalent. People in nearly all areas of the United States can find access to a nearby clinic by conducting a quick web search. 

Unfortunately, Ketamine therapy is rarely covered by insurance, and treatments can cost several hundred dollars each visit. If you have suffered from depression and think that ketamine therapy may benefit your condition, it’s worth researching ketamine clinics in your area and finding out if ketamine would be a good option.

Depression is a major problem in the United States, with 8.7% of all women suffering from it and 5.3% of men. And suicide rates are also increasing. It is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34. Therefore, we need to find better ways to treat depression and reduce suicidal thoughts and tendencies. 

Unfortunately, many people fail to seek treatment, while others do not experience a clinical benefit from traditional depression treatments. For these reasons, alternative therapies have been gaining popularity. 

Ketamine therapy is highly popular for its ability to work quickly in reducing suicidal thoughts and minimizing the symptoms of depression. In addition, it may be just the right tool for patients with major depression or treatment-resistant depression that have failed to benefit from traditional treatments.

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