What Is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a medicine that has been around for a long time but has recently been shown to be a breakthrough treatment for mood disorders. Ketamine was originally approved by the FDA in 1970 and for over 50 years it has been used as an adult and pediatric anesthetic in operating and emergency rooms. Since 2000, research studies have found that lower, sub-anesthetic, dosages of Ketamine provide a revolutionary new and efficacious treatment for a variety of mood disorders, including depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. Ketamine is now on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines due to its overwhelmingly positive and encouraging effects when treating depression and other psychiatric conditions.
An Established Medication, but a New Option for Mood Disorders
Intravenous infusions of Ketamine have been found by top researchers at Yale and the National Institute of Mental Health, among others, to work quickly and effectively to improve the symptoms of various mood disorders. This is true even for people who have not had successful treatment with traditional pill-based medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs.
Ketamine is often used by our patients after traditional medicines have proven inadequate, but only after much time, expense, and emotional energy have been exhausted. By contrast, most patients see results from Ketamine within hours of treatment.
Other advantages of Ketamine treatment:
Ketamine works faster than prescription medicines. Traditional antidepressants can take weeks to months to reach therapeutic levels and for patients to see results.
Traditional medicines often have side effects that make continued therapy difficult (decreased sex drive, weight gain, sleep disturbances). This is not the case with Ketamine. Also, many anti-depression/anti-anxiety medicines have negative interactions when combined with other medicines. Again, this is not the case with Ketamine.
Is Ketamine Safe?
When used properly, Ketamine is extremely safe. Side effects are mild, and quickly resolve when the infusion is completed or shortly afterward. A common side effect is some degree of dissociation, described as a disconnect between thoughts and surroundings. Perceptual disturbances, mild nausea, and dizziness can occur. Heart rate and blood pressure can transiently increase. These are expected and well-tolerated side effects. None of these symptoms are dangerous and can be addressed to make treatment more comfortable.
How Does Ketamine Work?
Ketamine has a high affinity to bind to and then block the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. Blocking the NMDA receptor allows an increase in the level of glutamate. This glutamate surge stimulates a process of neurogenesis in which new neuronal connections are formed. The improved healthy connections between neurons have antidepressive and procognitive effects. Glutamate acts with another receptor called GABA and the interaction between GABA and glutamate is important to creating a stable, healthy mood. Ketamine targets multiple other receptors and researchers continue to work on understanding the mechanism of how Ketamine works so quickly and efficaciously for the treatment of depression and other mood disorders.