You have probably come across the term “ketamine therapy” while researching alternative treatments for your depression, anxiety, chronic pain, or other mental health conditions. But what exactly is ketamine therapy?
Ketamine therapy is a new innovative treatment that is showing great promise in treating a variety of treatment-refractory mental and physical health conditions, including:
- Major depression
- Anxiety disorders
- Suicidal ideation
- Chronic pain (mainly neuropathic pain)
- Substance use disorders (SUD)
A Brief History
Although ketamine may be new in the mental health space, it has been around for decades. Ketamine first rose to fame as a battlefield anesthetic during the Vietnam War, soon after its FDA approval in 1970. Since then, it has been used extensively in emergency and operating rooms worldwide to induce or maintain anesthesia.
In the 1990s, researchers stumbled upon an interesting side effect of anesthetic ketamine: it appeared to have strong antidepressant effects. Since then, a growing body of research has shown that low doses of ketamine have rapid and long-lasting antidepressant effects, as well as anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving effects.
This prompted its use as an off-label or experimental treatment for people with debilitating chronic pain and treatment-resistant mental conditions – and the results have been nothing short of amazing. Some experts have even called ketamine the most important breakthrough in psychiatric treatments in 50 years.
How does Ketamine Therapy Work?
The mechanism of action of ketamine is not fully understood. Still, it is thought to work by antagonizing the NMDA receptors in the brain, triggering an increase in synaptic plasticity and neuronal growth.
Ketamine is also believed to increase the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps to promote the growth and development of new neurons and synapses. Essentially, ketamine helps the brain “rewire” itself, resulting in long-lasting improvements in mood, cognitive function, and pain processing.
What to Expect During Treatment
Ketamine treatment typically involves a series of low-dose intravenous (IV) infusions, each lasting about 40 minutes to 1 hour. The number of infusions will depend on the individual, but most people require between 6 and 8 infusions (during the initial treatment phase) to achieve the desired results.
Ketamine should only be administered by a licensed professional in a safe and controlled setting. During and after treatment, you will be monitored closely by trained medical staff to ensure your safety and comfort.
After the initial treatment phase is complete, some people may need maintenance or booster infusions to help maintain remission from symptoms. Similarly, the frequency of maintenance infusions can vary from one person to the next and can range between once every few weeks to once every few months.
In 2019, the FDA approved esketamine (Spravato), a nasal spray version of ketamine, for treatment-resistant depression. Esketamine is typically used in conjunction with an oral antidepressant and must be administered in a medical setting by a licensed healthcare professional.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Ketamine is generally safe and well-tolerated, but some people may experience side effects such as dizziness, nausea, and mild dissociation/hallucinations. These side effects are usually mild and short-lived.
This, combined with its high efficacy, rapid onset of action, and long-lasting therapeutic effects, gives ketamine the upper hand over traditional antidepressants, which often have a delayed onset of action and can take weeks or even months to reach full efficacy.
The Bottom Line
Ketamine therapy is a promising new treatment option with the potential to help those diagnosed with treatment-resistant mental illnesses and chronic pain. If you think ketamine therapy may be right for you, please reach out to a qualified medical professional to learn more.
Remember that ketamine is not a cure but a tool to help you manage your symptoms and live a healthier, happier life. Keep an open mind and be ready to try other avenues of treatment if ketamine therapy does not work for you.