Patients with treatment-resistant depression often find themselves ping-ponging from one treatment to another in an effort to finally find relief … often to no avail. Fortunately, ketamine has become the new rising star in depression treatment, stepping in to offer almost immediate relief when the usual cast of depression medications cannot. Safe, long-studied and infinitely promising, ketamine treatment for depression offers hope for depression patients who’ve “tried it all” and still haven’t found relief.
The long and illustrious history of ketamine
Ketamine began its time in the spotlight as an anesthetic in the 1960s. It was used on injured soldiers during the Vietnam War because of its large margin of safety. Referred to as a “dissociative anesthetic,” patients given ketamine for anesthesia describe their experience as feeling like they are floating in space, disconnected from their bodies, environment, and physical pain. Later, ketamine became a popular party drug at raves, parties and nightclubs for these same effects.
Through additional study and research, it was discovered that ketamine also helps patients with treatment-resistant depression. At very low doses, ketamine infusion therapy offers almost immediate improvement in depression symptoms, with a great number of patients reporting improvement just 24 hours after their first ketamine infusion.
How ketamine for depression works
Science is still working to uncover why ketamine works for depression. It is thought that ketamine works by targeting NMDA receptors in the brain. Ketamine binds to these receptors, which appears to increase the amount of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain. That excess glutamate activates AMPA receptors, which release chemicals that help the neurons in the brain communicate more effectively with each other along new neural pathways. These new neural pathways are thought to allow the patient the opportunity to create new positive thoughts and behaviors, improving their depression symptoms.
Ketamine is a fast-acting treatment for severe depression
One of the major downsides of typical antidepressant medication is that it takes weeks to deliver full therapeutic effects. Ketamine, on the other hand, has been shown to improve depression symptoms immediately. In several studies, half of patients with treatment-resistant depression showed a significant decrease in depression symptoms in only 24 hours after their first dose of intravenous ketamine.
What does ketamine treatment feel like?
At our office, ketamine treatment starts with the patient seated comfortably in a recliner. The treatment room is dimly lit with relaxing music playing in the background at a low volume. We strive to make the experience of ketamine treatment for depression as relaxing and pleasant as possible. The ketamine treatment room is private so our patients can relax in peace without other patents around.
The patient will be attached to monitors to keep track of blood pressure and vital signs for the duration of the infusion appointment. The nurse starts each treatment by answering any patient questions about ketamine treatment. Then the ketamine infusion will be administered via a syringe and tiny needle. As the needle is very small and is not injected into muscle tissue, the “stick” is almost painless. Even patients who are skittish about needles report that our ketamine injections are very comfortable and well tolerated.
After the injection, you’ll be asked to sit and relax for a few minutes as we monitor your response to the medication. You may feel an immediate decrease in depression symptoms at your appointment or sometime in the next 24 hours. You should feel no other effects from the ketamine.
Remember, the dosage for depression treatment is a fraction of the ketamine dosage used for anesthesia. You will not experience hallucinations, dissociation, or any of the “high” effects that made ketamine popular as a party drug. You’ll likely feel nothing at all, and that’s a good thing. The entire process takes about 40 minutes start to finish.
Side effects of ketamine treatment
Side effects of ketamine treatment for depression are rare. Ketamine, in small clinical doses administered under medical supervision, appears to be very well tolerated. In a recent study published in the Journal of Affected disorders, the most common side effect reported by patients undergoing their first dose of intravenous therapeutic ketamine was feeling “loopy,” “woozy” or “spacey.” All patients who reported this side effect said it disappeared a few hours after the injection.
Ready to try ketamine for your severe depression?
Dr. Jeff Ditzell’s New York City psychiatry office provides ketamine treatment for depression that’s safe, medically monitored, and offers hope for people struggling with treatment-resistant depression. Schedule your appointment today.