Depression is a serious issue that affects millions every year. Chances are you or someone you know has been affected by depression. In 2020 an estimated 21 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. The increase in cases of depression also brings an increase in cases that are treatment-resistant. However, recent studies have shown that ketamine infusion therapy may be the answer for these patients.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest. This can affect everyday life and make simple tasks difficult or uninteresting. The severity of depression can vary and affect other aspects of life. Other symptoms of depression include:
- Irritability, anger, frustration
- Reduced appetite
- Trouble thinking, remembering, and decision making
- Physical pain such as headaches and backaches
There are many types of depression, including major depression, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Each of these types requires a specific approach. Treatments for depression are often psychotherapies or antidepressant medications, or a combination of both.
A common type of medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, have shown adverse side effects such as physical dependence and suicidal thoughts or actions. SSRIs can also cause hormonal imbalances that affect sexual functions, weight, digestion, and more. These medicines also only work as long as you take them. They do not work as a “cure.” Similar to how painkillers may relieve the pain of a broken arm but will not fix it.
What is Ketamine?
In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration approved ketamine, as it proved to be an effective anesthetic during testing. Its initial use was during the Vietnam War for battlefield surgeries and pain management. Ketamine is still used today in emergency rooms and during surgical procedures, as it is a fast-acting general anesthetic.
In recent years, ketamine has gained traction in the mental health field. Specifically for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD).
In subanesthetic doses, ketamine has been shown to deliver results. The reaction of ketamine in the system triggers reactions in the brain’s cortex that allow brain connections to regrow. This is called synaptic plasticity.
Ketamine Therapy for Depression
In recent years, we have learned more about depression. We know it is a disorder that you cannot just ignore or “snap out of.” As we study new treatments, we continue to learn how the brain works and the role of brain chemistry and function. Approximately one-third of major depressive cases are treatment-resistant, meaning that after multiple attempts of using antidepressants, there was no improvement in depression symptoms.
Low-dose ketamine infusions coupled with comprehensive treatment has shown to be over 70% effective for clients with treatment-resistant conditions. Ketamine is a viable option for patients that have exhausted other treatments.
Unlike SSRIs, the benefits of ketamine treatment do not go away when you stop taking it. Also, results from infusion can be seen after the first treatment. This is because of ketamine’s ability to promote new neural connections. Ketamine also affects the glutamate system of the brain, glutamate is an important chemical for neuron-to-neuron function.
With new connections and therapy, this presents an opportunity for the patient to develop more positive thoughts and behaviors. Patients have described this as an “advanced exposure therapy.” The opportunity to analyze one’s thoughts with a clear distinction between tangible and intangible. This experience has been helpful for patients as they are able to truly look at past experiences in a clear lens rather than the “haze” of a traumatic experience.
The “outside-looking-in” perspective has been important in cases of PTSD because they are able to distinguish what was in their control and realize they should not associate those feelings with those experiences.
Ketamine infusion therapy has shown to be an exciting and innovative approach to treating depression. The results do not lie: ketamine infusion has been a life-saving treatment for several patients. Many have praised ketamine as an actual cure for their depression rather than a temporary fix. For people that have tried traditional treatments and were unsuccessful, ketamine infusion therapy is an option worth looking at.