How & Why Ketamine is a Breakthrough Treatment
Long standing stress from stress and anxiety takes a toll on brain function and connections. Ketamine can help restore those connections in a different way than traditional SSRIs.
Ketamine for Treating Depression and PTSD: Science 101
Depression and stress disorders are common. In this article, we will look at the research on using ketamine to treat depression and PTSD, including how it works, how well it works, and any potential side effects.
These mental health conditions can make it hard for people to enjoy their lives, and cope with stress. There are many different ways to treat depression and PTSD, including therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. But, for some, depression and anxiety become chronic, long-standing, and resistant to traditional treatment.
Ketamine has become a promising treatment option for these conditions. Ketamine is a medication that was first used as an anaesthetic, and is now known widely for its use in alleviating the symptoms of hard to treat depression and stress disorders. When standard treatments like therapy-only, SSRIs-only, or a combination of therapy and SSRIS do not work, other psychiatric interventions, like Ketamine treatment, offer new hope.
What is ketamine?
For many ketamine is a familiar word, but not always for it’s medicinal use. While ketamine has reputation for being a club drug, and like other medications, has been abused in uncontrolled settings, for medical purposes and with the correct dosage and administration it is a safe and highly effective treatment. Ketamine has been used for decades as an anaesthetic. In human medicine Ketamine has historically been used as a means of sedation and for pain management. In fact Ketamine is on the WHO’s list of essential medications for pain management and anesthesia.
While in an active phase of treatment, Ketamine makes people feel detached or dissociated from their surroundings and themselves. However, the impact of ketamine on the brain is now believed to last after the immediate effects have worn off, and the benefits in a psychiatric setting can build overtime and with continued treatment.
How does ketamine work for depression and PTSD?
As is the case with many medications research is always deepening the understanding scientists and doctors have on the how & why psychological change occurs with Ketamine treatment. What is known is that ketamine does help with depression and PTSD especially when other treatments have failed to bring about lasting relie, and the way it works in the brain is different than how traditionally prescribed SSRIs work.
Ketamine targets the glutamate system in the brain, which plays an important role in healthy brain functioning. Glutamate is a highly abundant neurotransmitter, responsible for facilitating signals between nerve cells. Through the target of the glutamate system scientists theorize that Ketamine works by blocking a protein called the NMDA receptor in nerve cells and activating another protein called the AMPA receptor, which helps with forming and saving memories. This interaction between the NMDA and AMPA receptors may lead to the quick and sustained improvement in mood and behavior seen with ketamine treatment. Ketamine may also increase the production of BDNF, a protein that helps nerve cells grow and survive, and change the activity of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are involved in mood regulation.
Interestingly, the pain relief and mood improvement can last even after the drug has left the body. This might be because ketamine changes how the brain’s cells talk to each other, which can help the brain form new connections that last longer than the drug’s effects. Often this concept of being able to change and create new connections is called neuroplasticity.
Evidence for using ketamine for depression and PTSD
There is a lot of evidence showing that ketamine can be used to treat depression and PTSD. Many studies have shown that ketamine can quickly and effectively reduce symptoms of depression and PTSD.
One study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that a single IV infusion of ketamine improved mood and suicidal thoughts in patients with treatment-resistant depression. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that a series of six IV ketamine infusions reduced symptoms of PTSD in military veterans.
Several studies that look at many studies together, called meta-analyses, have also shown that ketamine is a safe and effective treatment for depression and PTSD. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that ketamine was more effective than a dummy treatment at reducing symptoms of depression, with a large effect size and a quick onset of action. A systematic review published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry similarly found that ketamine was effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD, with a moderate to large effect size.
What are the potential side effects of ketamine?
Like any medication, ketamine can cause side effects. The most common side effects of ketamine are dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. Ketamine will also impair your ability to drive or operate machinery which is why Heading requires patients have transportation to and from treatment. Other potential side effects include hallucinations, changes in blood pressure, and respiratory problems, which is why Heading recommends treatment be in-person and under the direct supervision of medical professionals. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of ketamine treatment before starting treatment.
There are a number of studies that discuss the use of ketamine for the treatment of depression. Here are a few examples of scientific resources that may be of interest.
Zarate, C. A., Jr., Singh, J. B., Carlson, P. J., Brutsche, N. E., Ameli, R., Luckenbaugh, D. A., … Charney, D. S. (2006). A randomized trial of an N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist in treatment-resistant major depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(8), 856–864. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.63.8.856
- This study found that a single intravenous (IV) infusion of ketamine was associated with a rapid and significant improvement in mood and suicidal thoughts in patients with treatment-resistant depression.
Feder, A., Parides, M. K., Murrough, J. W., Perez, A. M., Morgan, J. E., Saxena, S., … Charney, D. S. (2014). Efficacy of intravenous ketamine for treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(6), 681–688. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.30
- This study found that a series of six IV ketamine infusions was associated with a significant reduction in symptoms of PTSD in military veterans.
Caddy, C., Giaroli, G., White, T. P., & Tracy, D. K. (2019). Ketamine as a treatment for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 245, 959–973. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2019.03.053
- This meta-analysis concluded that ketamine is a safe and effective treatment for depression, with a large effect size and a rapid onset of action.
Bremner, J. D., Vythilingam, M., Vermetten, E., Adil, J., Khan, S., Nazeer, A., … Krystal, J. H. (2008). Pilot study of repeat-dose intravenous ketamine in treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 63(3), 339–341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.05.028
- This study found that a series of IV ketamine infusions was associated with a significant reduction in symptoms of PTSD in a small group of patients
Want to find out if Heading is right for you?
Complete our consultation form and an intake specialist will get in touch.