Ketamine: An Effective Treatment for Depression?

COVID-19, the global pandemic that keeps growing, is causing another pandemic: anxiety and severe depression. As the pandemic continues, and social isolation becomes more prevalent, more than one in three adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. In comparison, from January to June 2019, more than one in ten (11%) adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.

As a result, the use of traditional antidepressants is on the rise. “In the survey, titled “America’s State of Mind Report,” researchers highlighted that from February 16 to March 15, prescriptions filled per week for antidepressant, antianxiety, and anti-insomnia medications increased by 21%.

We also know that cannabis can be useful for some people when treating anxiety and depression. Many people use medical marijuana to ease anxiety and stress; for some, it works better than medications like antidepressants. Yet, it’s not always right for everyone. In fact, for some, cannabis can worsen anxiety or depression.

There are other options available. Currently, ketamine is becoming a well known alternative for treating major depressive disorders in clinical settings across the United States.

Everything You Want to Know About Ketamine

If you’ve ever had a general anesthetic, you may have heard of ketamine. The commercial use of ketamine began in the 1970s, and it’s now commonly used for various clinical applications, including anesthesia, palliative care, and, most recently, for the treatment of depression. Ketamine is also well known for being a "recreational" drug and for its potential for abuse.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine’s chemical makeup is similar to phencyclidine (PCP), nitrous oxide, and dextromethorphan (DXM). It has been used widely as an anesthetic for surgery in humans and animals. Ketamine provides complete sensory detachment and produces hallucinogenic-like effects. Street names for ketamine are VitaminK, Super K, K, Green and Donkey Dust.

What are the Effects of Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative drug with sedating effects and may cause numbness, memory loss, and unconsciousness while maintaining respiratory reflexes and adequate blood pressure.

Ketamine has a psychedelic effect and may reduce overall body sensations. It produces an abrupt high that lasts for about one or two hours. Instant effects of ketamine may include drowsiness, profuse sweating, an irregular heartbeat, confusion, nausea, numbness, and slurred speech. It may also create an overwhelming feeling of relaxation, and consumers may feel "out of their bodies" or a dream-like detachment. Ketamine can alter a person’s sense of space and time and cause visual or auditory hallucinations.

Continued ketamine use causes a slow heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, behavioral changes, and difficulty breathing. Heavy ketamine use results in urinary tract problems as it may thicken the bladder wall, causing pain during urination. Prolonged use may also cause agitation, panic attacks, reduction of both long and short term memory.

Too much ketamine may cause immobility and a sense of going into "k-hole," an intense feeling of separating from one’s body. Withdrawal from prolonged ketamine abuse comes with numerous side effects such as depression, anxiety, lack of appetite, insomnia, and restlessness. It is possible to become addicted to ketamine, and with abuse, more may be needed to feel its effects.

When used correctly, ketamine has numerous therapeutic benefits including the following:

Treatment of Depression & Anxiety

The FDA recently approved ketamine for "off label" consumption, and clinics across the United States are using it for the treatment of depression. Recent studies indicate that up to 70% of patients treated with treatment-resistant depression improved when given an oral antidepressant with intranasal esketamine, a nasal spray derived from ketamine.

It’s believed that ketamine works for depression and anxiety as it enhances the transmission of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and triggers the production of glutamate. This, in turn, prompts the brain to create new neural connections. As new bonds form, patients can approach life with more positive associations and behaviors. Ketamine works quickly in the treatment of depression and anxiety, whereas traditional antidepressants may take weeks to take effect, if at all.

Ketamine infusions for depression usually take effect within four to seventy-two hours, and patients may feel a lasting impact for 1-3 weeks. Anecdotal reports also indicate ketamine may be a potential treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

Chronic Pain

Ketamine is frequently an effective treatment for chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and fibromyalgia. Low dose ketamine infusions have had a beneficial effect on the central nervous system, effectively giving a reboot to neurotransmitters within the brain. Patients may fee immediate and sustained relief from pain through a series of low dose ketamine infusions.

While surgical operations tend to be very painful, ketamine relieves pain significantly. When your nerves are sending those pain signals to the brain, ketamine cuts them off. You won’t feel the excruciating pain after some surgical blades have cut through your body organs. Vietnam War soldiers used these psychedelics to relieve pain from injuries.

What are the Risks Associated With Ketamine?

Consumption of ketamine within a clinical setting is considered relatively safe. Some patients may feel uncomfortable with the associated effects, such as feeling disassociated from the body or a sense of "couch-lock."

Ketamine may cause an increase in blood pressure. People who have the following are not candidates for ketamine treatment:

  • glaucoma
  • brain lesions or tumors
  • brain swelling

There are several other conditions where ketamine treatments should be used with caution.

Is Ketamine Legal?

The FDA has approved nasal-spray esketamine for the treatment of depression. It is legal in specific states that have legalized its use. Each state has individual regulations on the administration of ketamine. Utah and Texas, for example, have legalized medicinal use of the drug, whereas other states such as California, Delaware, and Wyoming among others have placed ketamine as a schedule III

Ketamine Drug Interactions

Ketamine has seven significant drug interactions and two hundred and fifty-six moderate drug interactions. It is essential to check with a physician on how ketamine may interact with any medications currently in use.

Where Can I Legally Seek Ketamine Treatment?

More than 150 clinics in the U.S. offer various forms of ketamine treatment. With the legalization of ketamine spray and infusions, new clinics are continuing to open. While it might not be easy to find a ketamine cline, there are many established providers in legalized states. When looking for a ketamine clinic, conduct due diligence, and check with your local healthcare provider.


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