Depression is one of the leading mental health disorders in the world. Studies indicate that as many as 120 million people (globally) have experienced an episode of depression in their life. The prevalence of the mental disorder has triggered the development of numerous treatments. Depression is commonly treated using a combination of medications, like antidepressants. It can also be treated using different psychotherapy approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic therapy, and ketamine therapy – a recently developed treatment for depression.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a medication mainly used to start and maintain anesthesia during surgery. The drug is also used for preventing pain and discomfort during specific medical procedures and tests. It is often referred to as a dissociative anesthetic as it changes a person’s perception of sight and sound. It works by creating feelings of detachment from the environment and relieving pain at the same time. Ketamine has also been linked to the treatment of depression. However, there are still questions about how it works.
How does ketamine therapy work?
Ketamine has been used as a treatment for depression for years. However, the FDA approved ketamine for the treatment of resistant depression in 2019. Ketamine works by exerting an antidepressant effect to help people manage depression when other treatments fail to work.
Unlike other depressants, ketamine does not target brain activities. Instead, it works by blocking a receptor known as NMDA. It binds to the NMDA receptors, causing an increase in glutamate, which forms in the spaces between the neurons. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that helps activate the connection in the AMPA receptor. The blockage of NMDA receptors and the activation of the AMPA receptors lead to an increase of other molecules that help neurons communicate with each other along new pathways. This process, known scientifically as synaptogenesis, affects mood, cognition, and thought patterns. This is the primary method through which ketamine helps treat depression.
Ketamine can also help with depression treatment by reducing the signals that take part in the development of inflammation, which has been linked to a variety of mood disorders. Additionally, ketamine can help treat depression by facilitating communication within specific areas of the brain.
Ketamine can treat depression in more ways than one. For this reason, it is considered an effective alternative to traditional depression treatments.
Administration of ketamine as a treatment for depression
The FDA recently approved a brand of ketamine known as Spravato as a treatment for depression. This drug is usually administered in the form of a nasal spray. However, this is done in a doctor’s office, and the individual is supervised while under the influence of the drug. Patients also need approval from a medical or mental health practitioner to use Spravato.
Ketamine can also be administered in IV form. IV ketamine, also known as ketamine infusions, is used to treat resistant depression, trauma, anxiety, and chronic pain. It is typically administered at a slow and controlled rate. How much is given is usually calculated according to your weight, and the amount can also be altered according to your tolerance. Note that ketamine IV treatment is not FDA approved.
The side effects
It is worth mentioning that ketamine also has some side effects. The most likely side effects are:
High blood pressure
Nausea and vomiting
Perceptual disturbances (this may appear in the form of speeding or slowing down of time, colors, stimulating noises, blurred vision, and textures)
Dissociation or out of body experiences
However, the side effects do not outweigh the benefits of ketamine, especially for someone experiencing severe depression or suicidal thoughts.
Note that ketamine is also known to have the potential to treat post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety, chronic, and severe pain. More often than not, you will experience some relief from depression within one to three ketamine therapy sessions. However, the positive effects are likely to extend if the treatment is repeated and consistent.