Ketamine is a drug that is completely unique, and when it comes to treating depression, the results have been so good, it’s shocked many in psychiatry. “This is a game-changer,” Dr. John Krystal, chief psychiatrist at Yale Medicine, told Medical Xpress. “When you take ketamine, it triggers reactions in your cortex that enable brain connections to regrow. It’s the reaction to ketamine, not the presence of ketamine in the body that constitutes its effects.”
For a lot of people who try ketamine for depression or other mental illnesses, it can be a last resort. They’ve often tried many other medications already, some with little or no success, before trying ketamine. And then, in many cases, they’re stunned by the quick-acting results that they ask, “Why didn’t I try this sooner?”
Well, maybe ketamine should be tried first, before experimenting with drugs like SSRIs that work on the serotonin system. These drugs can take weeks or months to kick in, whereas ketamine has shown rapid results, sometimes in a few days or even hours. Ketamine works on the glutamate system instead, so it’s a completely novel antidepressant.
Here are some other reasons why ketamine might be reconsidered as a first line of depression treatment, rather than an option that is explored when others have been exhausted.
Ketamine Is Incredibly Safe
Ketamine has been around since the 1960s but didn’t become popular in medicine until the 1970s. But today, it is the most popular anesthetic in the world, according to the World Health Organization. It has widespread use as a painkiller and a sedative, especially in emergency rooms and veterinary medicine.
Ketamine is one of the safest drugs around, and it doesn’t significantly suppress the respiratory system nor is it highly addictive, like painkillers such as morphine.
That doesn’t mean ketamine is free of side effects, but they are much easier to manage than some drugs. It does need to be administered by medical professionals in a clinical setting however,
Ketamine Works Fast
If you are facing seriously depressing moods or even suicidal thoughts, waiting a few weeks or months for medicine to begin working can be dangerous. In some cases, certain antidepressants will actually make depressive symptoms worse in the meantime.
Other antidepressants also require you to take a dose every day, which means you can’t quit them immediately but must be weaned off them. They can also have side effects on sexual drive, energy levels and more.
On the other hand, ketamine has been shown in numerous controlled clinical studies to work very quickly. In the first study on ketamine and depression, published in 2000, patients saw a relief of symptoms in just four hours, according to Bloomberg.
So what does ketamine feel like?
“I wasn’t high. It wasn’t like I had smoked a joint or had morphine. It was like a spring breeze had blown through my head and just cleaned out all the detritus that had built up over years and years,” Claudia Kieffer told the Guardian. “And when you’ve suffered from depression for as long as I had, it feels like you’re drowning. So when something comes along that makes you feel so very different and healthy, you want to know what that drug is.”
It Doesn’t Always Work The First Time and Not For Everyone
Ketamine has an astounding success rate in some cases. For example, up to 80 percent or more of people can see improvements in symptoms. That measure of success includes a 50 percent reduction in depressive symptoms lasting three months or longer.
But that’s not everyone and that’s OK too. Some people need a few ketamine infusions before experiencing relief. With other people, it’s just one infusion. And with others, ketamine doesn’t help their symptoms at all.
That doesn’t mean they should give up—by all means, everyone is different and you should find the right medicine for you—but that also suggests ketamine should be given a shot first. After all, if it can give results so quickly, it may make more sense to rule out ketamine before trying a different type of antidepressant. And with such an a high success rate and its robust safety profile, ketamine should be considered as a first line of treatment.
Some people, like Claudia, take ketamine and feel their symptoms evaporate. Other people who take ketamine for depression or PTSD have to get repeat infusions every three or six months. The ketamine helps for a time, but it doesn’t cure them and they need to take it again.
Some people are critical about this aspect of ketamine, but when compared to other depression treatments, it could be seen as a positive thing. Even a short-lived sliver of hope is a powerful thing for someone who is so depressed they can’t function in life or is at risk of suicidal thoughts. Being able to go to work, spend time with family and enjoy life for months at a time after just one treatment is a huge improvement.
Because ketamine doesn’t have to be taken every day, patients don’t have to worry about missing a dose or losing insurance or becoming dependent on a drug. There are a few caveats to ketamine treatment, as there are with all things, but when the evidence for ketamine as a depression drug are weighed, the benefits far outweigh any potential negatives.
So the question remains: why is ketamine not the first drug on people’s minds when it comes to depression treatment? Contact us today to learn more!