Nearly 16 million adults in the United States struggle with depression every year. And of that number, roughly one third of do not find relief from antidepressants and other traditional forms of treatment. The big issue? If depression isn’t effectively treated or managed, the individual’s risk of alcohol and drug abuse and dependence as well as suicide increase.
Fortunately, there is a new form of treatment emerging that could offer relief to those individuals who have not responded to traditional treatment – ketamine therapy for depression.
How Does Ketamine Work for Treating Depression?
An anesthetic drug, ketamine blocks pain and was developed in the 1960s for use when operating on soldiers in the Vietnam War. But recent research suggests that it is effective for more than just dulling pain. In fact, it appears that ketamine may work more quickly than traditional antidepressant drugs and serve those individuals whom typical treatments have failed.
Researchers still are unsure of precisely how ketamine therapy works for depression; however, there are a few ideas that are becoming widely accepted. Typical antidepressants function to shift the balance of the chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine.
Ketamine, on the other hand, is believed to actually alter the way the cells in the brain communicate with each other. Glen Brooks, one of the leading researchers, explains it in terms of a computer. He shares that ketamine therapy for depression functions more as a hardware fix whereas antidepressants are actually a software fix.
Ketamine actually blocks NMDA, one of the receptors in the brain that presumably plays a part in depression. The drug also impacts other brain receptors, including opioid receptors that affect depression and pain. Research also seems to indicate that ketamine can have lasting effects on depression, even though the drug itself only remains in the body for a short period.
How Do Patients Receive Ketamine Therapy for Depression?
Ketamine is available at ketamine clinics around the country. Currently, more than two dozen clinics exist in the United States; however, the drug itself is only available in 12 states. It is, however, being used in several clinical trials currently.
Typically ketamine is administered through an IV directly into a vein. This method of delivery allows for the drug to reach the brain in the fastest way possible. Most individuals receive six doses delivered over a period of 7 to 14 days. After this initial phase of treatment, most patients receive booster IV treatments every 3 to 5 weeks. Many individuals must continue this schedule of treatment for a year or more to really achieve long-term results.
Why Is Ketamine for Depression Different from Recreational Use?
Ketamine, more commonly known as Special K, has a history as a popular party drug that induces a dissociative, dream-like state that may also cause hallucinations. As such, it has been a favored drug of choice for ravers seeking an intense high. However, the drug in reality is an extremely viable therapy option for those dealing with extreme depression.
More than just a party drug, ketamine is a legal prescription medication that is used for a number of purposes, including pain management, sedation, and anesthesia. Not only that, but it is actually considered one of the safest anesthetics.
The primary difference between the use of the drug for recreation compared to ketamine therapy for depression is the how and why it is administered. For medical treatment, ketamine is generally administered intravenously and is very closely monitored by the prescribing physician. Likewise, the dosage given is precisely indicated for each individual patient. Alternatively, recreational drug usage is not monitored and is often ingested orally.
When it comes down to it, the question really is… If a doctor is overseeing a patient or patients who is not responding to standard treatment and is a threat to him or herself and others, how can you not administer this drug?
How Effective Is Ketamine Therapy for Depression?
Compared to standard antidepressant treatments that typically take weeks or even months to really be of benefit to the individual, ketamine starts working within just a few short hours. So for individuals who are suicidal, this treatment option can actually be lifesaving. The treatment is also a significant benefit to those individuals who have not responded to standard depression treatments.
Some research even indicates that this treatment is effective for patients who have seen dozens of doctors and tried numerous different medications. Most individuals experience a significant lifting of mood in a very short time period accompanied by a lessened sense of dread. Anxiety is also dramatically decreased with the use of ketamine therapy for depression.
It is important to understand, however, that ketamine is not just a quick fix. Some individuals are under the impression that they will receive one treatment and be “cured.” There is very little evidence of that being the case, though. In fact, many individual experience the effects of the drug waning in just 1 to 3 days.
Likewise, most patients need to get several treatments over a period of several months or even years to really see long-term improvements. Pairing ketamine therapy for depression with cognitive behavioral therapy may extend the effects of the drug; however, more research needs to be done to really determine the lasting effects and impacts of the drug.
What Are the Side Effects of Ketamine?
After receiving the drug, most individuals experience some “dissociative” side effects. These effects can be described as having an “out-of-body” experience. Many individuals report that their surroundings look different than the normally do. Likewise, colors often appear blurred, and some individuals may even feel as if they are looking down on their bodies. This feeling typically lasts for roughly an hour after treatment, but should wear off even as the benefits of the treatment continue.
Some individuals may also experience an increase in heart rate and a spike in blood pressure. For most people this does not cause a significant concern; however, for those with heart disease, the risk may be more substantial.Because ketamine therapy for depression is still a relatively new treatment, doctors do not yet know the long-term effects of the drug on the body.
Some studies suggest that regular use of the drug may be tied to memory issues and other problems with thinking, but that does not appear to be the case with the dosages that are currently being used to treat depression. Some doctors are also concerned that the regular use of the drug may also contribute to abuse, but that has not been proven at this point.
While more research does still need to be done to answer all of the questions regarding ketamine therapy as an effective treatment for depression, all indicators currently point at it being a good option for those who have not responded to traditional treatment in the past.
Likewise, it also appears to be an effective option for those who are in immediate danger. At any rate, therapy must be strictly monitored by a doctor who will maintain an effective working relationship with his or her patient.