Ketamine is best known as an often-abused club drug with euphoric and hallucinatory effects, but medical studies in recent years indicate it might be a revolutionary treatment for depression, especially for patients whose condition is resistant to traditional medications and therapies. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, here’s how to know when it might be time to try ketamine as a treatment option.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine is technically an anesthetic, used primarily in veterinary settings since its FDA approval for human and animal use in 1962. In low doses, it can help ease pain and lower the need for stronger, more addictive painkillers like morphine and opioids. However, ketamine also binds to certain receptors in the brain to activate connections and help neurons communicate with each other. This process, called synaptogenesis, has been known to affect mood, thought patterns, and cognition. 

How does ketamine treat depression?

Traditional antidepressant medications focus on increasing chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain to improve mood, and many of them can take weeks to produce an effect. In contrast, ketamine repairs neuron synapses that do not work properly in patients diagnosed with depression, allowing for a more rapid improvement in the patient’s mood. Ketamine also quickly increases the levels of glutamate in the brain, which is the primary neurotransmitter responsible for normal brain function. Although research continues in the use of ketamine for the treatment of depression, one of the most exciting breakthroughs so far is the response with patients who have treatment-resistant depression.

What is treatment-resistant depression?

Treatment-resistant depression is depression that does not respond to traditional depression treatments.  While some people who suffer from depression have to try a couple of different medications before they find one that works for them, there are those who do not experience relief even after trying several.  Biological resistance to medication can be linked to genetic background, general health, and unique psychology. Studies show women are at a higher risk for developing treatment-resistant depression than men, especially as they age. Certain underlying medical disorders are also linked to treatment-resistant depression, including thyroid disorder, sleep disorder, chronic pain conditions, drug abuse, and eating disorders. 

What ketamine treatments are available?

There are a couple of different ways to use ketamine to treat patients with treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine infusion therapy involves six low-dose intravenous (IV) ketamine infusions over the course of two weeks. There is also an FDA-approved nasal spray that provides relief in minutes or hours, compared to weeks or months with typical antidepressant medications. As with any medication, there are some potential side effects of ketamine therapy, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Perceptual disturbances/hallucinations
  • Dissociation/out-of-body experience

The dosage for ketamine therapy will vary among patients, and doctors aim to find the precise balance for therapeutic success with minimal side effects. 

Ketamine treatment for depression in San Diego

If you have been diagnosed with depression but traditional medications and therapies are not working for you, it might be time to explore ketamine depression therapy in San Diego. At Pacific Health Systems, we offer both IV ketamine treatment and SPRAVATO, the ketamine nasal spray. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call us at (619) 267-9257.