Ketamine is often associated with rave parties and psychedelic experiences, but the drug may also hold potential as a treatment for depression, a disease that strikes roughly 16 million Americans per year.
As of 2022, researchers are still trying to understand the link between ketamine and depression. Still, early studies suggest that ketamine could be an effective treatment for people who don’t respond to traditional antidepressants.
If you’re considering alternative treatment for your mental health issues, read on to learn about how it works and its potential benefits.
What is depression?
Before we discuss ketamine as a treatment for depression, it’s important to first understand what depression is.
Depression is a mental illness characterized by feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness. It can be caused by various factors, including life changes, genetics, and chemical imbalances in the brain. In extreme cases, depression can lead to potentially fatal consequences, like suicidal thoughts, physical neglect, self-harm, and drug or alcohol abuse.
How is depression currently treated?
Many people with depression rely on antidepressants to improve their mood. Antidepressants, which include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), are designed to alter the brain’s chemical composition.
While antidepressants can effectively alleviate some depressive symptoms, they often take several weeks to work and don’t work for everyone. In many cases, a person still has to deal with depression even after starting a course of antidepressants.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an experimental treatment for depression that involves placing a magnetic coil near the head. The magnetic coil emits electromagnetic pulses that stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve mood.
TMS does show some potential, but it can also cause seizures and other side effects, especially if used by people who have metal implants or medical devices in their brains.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) uses electrical stimulation to treat depression. A patient is given anesthesia during an ECT session, and a small electric current is passed through the brain.
The electric current triggers a seizure that lasts several seconds to a few minutes. After the episode ends, the patient typically goes through a period of confusion. Because ECT can trigger seizures, it’s only recommended for patients who don’t respond to other treatments or have very severe depression that could lead to suicidal thoughts.
What is ketamine?
Ketamine is a drug that’s primarily used as an anesthetic in emergency rooms and veterinary clinics. It’s also sometimes used recreationally to give users a psychedelic experience. First synthesized in 1956, it is a member of the dissociative drugs, which distorts perceptions and thoughts.
When given as an analgesic, ketamine binds to the opioid receptor, which blocks pain signals sent to the brain.
Effects of ketamine
Ketamine is often associated with feelings of detachment from the body, but it can also cause visual hallucinations, distorted perception of space and time, and euphoria. It has a very low toxicity level, making it one of the few anesthetic drugs that can be safely given to non-hospitalized patients.
Ketamine doesn’t have hallucinogenic effects in the same sense as other drugs in its class. Instead, dissociative drugs sometimes mimic the experience of a trip because users feel a sense of disassociation.
In the past, ketamine was sometimes given to people as a psychedelic drug. Still, recreational use is not common because users can suffer from “ketamine bladder syndrome” if they take too much. In this condition, frequent use of ketamine can damage the urinary tract and kidneys.
What are the different types of ketamine?
Racemic ketamine and Esketamine are the two different types of ketamine that the FDA approves.
Racemic ketamine is given intravenously (IV) and can be used as an anesthetic for surgery or emergency medical procedures. It’s also sometimes given subcutaneously when IV administration isn’t safe, such as when a patient has a blood clot in the lungs.
Esketamine is a relatively new form of the product. Sold under the name Spravato by the FDA, this nasal spray is an alternative to IV ketamine treatment because it can be administered in a less invasive way.
Both products can effectively treat depression, but researchers are still trying to figure out the correct dosages and frequency of ketamine treatment.
How can ketamine help with depression?
To understand how ketamine helps with depression, we need to understand its effect on the brain. Ketamine is not a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), so it doesn’t affect the brain in the same way as most prescription antidepressants.
It fails to target the underlying biology of depression but instead works with NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors in the brain.
NMDA receptors work with glutamate, a neurotransmitter that sends signals between neurons and helps regulate mood and cognition. Glutamate is essential for learning and memory, but too much can make the brain less efficient and increase depression symptoms.
When ketamine binds to the NMDA receptor, it slows down glutamate production and initiates synaptic plasticity.
Synaptic plasticity refers to changes in neuronal synapses that affect the brain’s ability to process stimuli. This means that repeated doses of ketamine can make the brain less prone to depression and increase its ability to process information over time.
How does ketamine compare to other antidepressants?
In the past, ketamine has been used for depression treatment in a clinical setting – often through IV administration – because it’s one of the few drugs that doesn’t have many adverse side effects. Most recently, however, ketamine has been used for depression treatment through nasal inhalation.
Esketamine is a type of racemic ketamine that contains only the S(+) stereoisomer, while racemic ketamine has both the S(+) and R(+) isomers. This makes it less likely for patients to experience adverse side effects.
Researchers aren’t sure how ketamine compares to SSRIs in the long term, but it’s been shown to help reduce depressive symptoms quickly. In fact, some studies have found ketamine effective for depression treatment after only one dose.
While more research is needed to compare the long-term effectiveness of ketamine and traditional antidepressants in treating depression, there’s no denying that it’s an effective antidepressant.
Is ketamine safe?
Ketamine is one of the safest drugs globally, which is why it’s often used as an anesthetic during surgery or for emergency medical procedures. It can be administered intravenously (IV), subcutaneously, orally, and nasally through inhalation.
It doesn’t have many side effects, especially traditional antidepressants like SSRIs, but some potential issues may develop. People who have schizophrenia or another mental illness in addition to depression could see an increase in symptoms while using ketamine. This includes anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.
Other potential side effects include:
- Short-term memory loss and confusion
- Difficulty concentrating and paying attention
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling disorientated or out of control
Lastly, ketamine can be addictive. If patients become dependent on ketamine to regulate their moods, it may not work for them in the long run. Not only that, but when prolonged, frequent, or high doses of ketamine are used, it can cause damage to the bladder, liver, or kidneys.
If someone experiences these symptoms, they should stop using ketamine and see a doctor as soon as possible. Overall, ketamine is generally safe for depression treatment with a low risk of side effects, but addiction is the most common side effect.
With Esketamine nasal spray approved by the FDA, it’s likely to become a popular choice for depression treatment.
What other conditions can ketamine treat?
Research has shown that ketamine can be used to treat several other conditions in addition to depression.
Ketamine is an acute treatment for migraine since it provides fast-acting pain relief. The drug has also been found to help decrease the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine attacks when taken regularly.
Ketamine is sometimes used as an off-label treatment for OCD, and it’s found to be effective in reducing symptoms of the disease within 24 hours after administration. Since ketamine enhances the brain’s neuroplasticity, it can help break the recurrent patterns of behavior that characterize OCD.
Research has shown that ketamine can help curb alcohol addiction by activating the reward pathway in the brain. It works by making people feel happy when they stop drinking and reduces cravings for alcohol. Since it affects opioid receptors, ketamine may also reduce withdrawal symptoms related to opioid addiction.
PTSD, Postpartum & other trauma disorders
Ketamine has been studied as a potential treatment for PTSD after trauma exposure. More research is still needed to determine whether ketamine can help treat the disorder, but some studies suggest it may help reduce symptoms of PTSD after just one dose.
It’s also used to treat postpartum depression and other mental disorders that develop after birth.
Ketamine has been used as an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for patients with suicidal thoughts. Since it targets NMDA receptors in the brain, ketamine can alter patients’ moods and behaviors significantly after one dose.
It may also help break up persistent suicidal thoughts and behaviors by binding to NMDA receptors and activating other areas in the brain responsible for moods, emotions, and behaviors.
How to get ketamine for depression?
The only legal way to get ketamine for depression is to get a prescription from a licensed physician. Some patients with treatment-resistant depression may be able to acquire the drug from a psychiatrist or specialist who is willing to prescribe it off-label – but you need a thorough evaluation and explanation of why ketamine might be helpful for your symptoms.
One way to meet a licensed practitioner willing to prescribe ketamine for depression is through a treatment center. For example, the Tikvah Lake Recovery Center uses ketamine to treat mood disorders, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.
These centers provide medical supervision, individual therapy sessions, and support to those struggling with addiction.
Why choose Tikvah Recovery oasis for your ketamine treatments
At Tikvah Lake Recovery Oasis, we appreciate ketamine infusions’ benefits to those battling depression. Our professional and caring staff members supervise our patients during every step of their treatment process.
With only six patients allowed on our luxurious premises, each person receives the undivided attention that they need. In addition, we offer a range of holistic treatments that may be helpful for those struggling with depression.
Rehab is not a one-size-fits-all process, and we respect that one treatment may work better than another for different patients. Even after you complete your ketamine treatments, the Tikvah Lake Recovery team remains available to help you whenever you need it.
You’ll also have access to our personalized wellness programs, which will help you better manage stress and stay emotionally balanced.
Our Florida rehab center features luxurious accommodations that will make your stay comfortable and pleasant. We aim to provide patients with a restful and therapeutic environment with our on-site amenities and hospitality.
Nature is all around us, and our scenic lake oasis is the perfect place to go during your recovery process. Enjoy exploring the beautiful surroundings and take advantage of outdoor activities like kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and more!
To help you heal emotionally as well as physically, we also offer a range of holistic treatments that complement your ketamine treatments. For example, you’ll have access to acupuncture, massage therapy, holistic nutrition, and more for an all-encompassing approach to treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for mental health conditions like depression. It can help you take control of your thoughts and behaviors in order to stop relapses. CBT works by challenging your faulty beliefs and showing you how to acknowledge negative thoughts, feelings, and actions without judging yourself.
Ketamine is a drug that’s still being researched as a potential treatment for depression. Some studies suggest promising results, but combining ketamine with other treatments like therapy can help you heal faster. It’s also essential to have a personalized treatment plan that comprehensively addresses all aspects of your mental health condition.
If you or a loved one is dealing with suicidal thoughts, bipolar disease, depression, or another mood disorder, contact Tikvah Lake today to learn more about our ketamine treatments and how we can help.