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The newest method to treat depression is an anesthetic medication, ketamine.
People suffering from depression aren’t alone. In fact, depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States today, with nearly 15.7 million American adults suffering from these feelings of persistent sadness and irritability. More than 300 million people experience depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Untreated, depression can become a chronic debilitating disease, leading to anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse issues, heart disease, and even suicide.
Ketamine is a very safe drug with few side effects. As anesthesiologists, we regularly administer this medication and are specifically trained to monitor and respond to its effects. With low doses of ketamine, side effects can include feelings of euphoria, confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, fuzzy vision, and nausea. These side effects clear up quickly, within approximately 10-15 minutes after completion of the infusion. There are no long-term reported side effects with ketamine infusions.
The majority of the patients see some mood elevation and symptomatic relief between the first and second infusion. If the infusions are effective, a series of four additional infusions are scheduled over the following 10 days. After that, maintenance “booster” infusions may be scheduled weeks/months later to maintain a positive response. Each patient is unique, so the dosage, frequency, and total length of treatment can vary and is customized to maximize the most effective sustained response.
Research shows it is changing lives for the better
A recent study, which was published May 3rd in Scientific Reports, reinforces ketamine’s reputation as an effective antidepressant both as a monotherapy and adjunctive therapy. Researchers at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego mined the FDA Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS) database for depression symptoms in patients taking ketamine for pain. They found that depression was reported half as often among the more than 41,000 patients who took ketamine, compared to patients who took any other drug or drug combination for pain. The team found that the incidence of symptoms of depression in patients who took ketamine in addition to other pain therapies dropped by 50% compared to patients who took any other drug or drug combination for pain.
Setting the record straight
There are some controversies surrounding the use of ketamine, which has been known to have a reputation as an illicit party drug (with a street name of “K” or “Special K”) due to its hallucinogenic effects at high doses. Like many drugs, if abused and misused, there can be harmful side effects with the potential to overdose. But current studies do not demonstrate an addictive potential for ketamine infusion therapy. We mitigate the risk of abuse by limiting access to the infusions and instead of sending patients home with oral medications, our trained health care providers are providing ketamine in a medically supervised clinical environment. This approach greatly minimizes the potential for addiction and misuse.
If more research can continue in this field, including large-scale clinical trials, ketamine infusion therapy may transform the way the public and other medical professionals think about treating depression, and it could open the door to even more effective forms of treatment.
Find the right, multi-faceted treatment
Not all people who suffer from the chronic diseases we’ve mentioned will respond to ketamine infusion therapy, and even those who are responders from this therapy may require a multi-faceted approach for a comprehensive treatment plan. Ketamine infusion therapy may not be a “silver bullet” treatment to heal depression. As caregivers, we need to address all aspects of a person’s disease, including social, environmental, biological, and psychological considerations. However, for some patients, ketamine infusion can be the long-awaited solution to return to a good quality of life.
Those who have one of the chronic diseases mentioned, and feel they’ve exhausted all treatment options, should talk to their primary care provider about whether ketamine infusion therapy may be the next step in their care.