Ketamine for Depression

“Special K” is turning into something much more special than initially thought.

Ketamine (it’s proper name) use to be misused as a so-called “club drug” that caused hallucinations. But recently, medical research showed that, in very small, properly calculated doses, it can alleviate migraine pain for up to several weeks and reduce the severity of migraine auras.

Now, there’s a growing body of research that shows a series of ketamine infusions, carefully administered in a medical setting, can help ease depression. It also is being used in hospital emergency rooms to quickly curb suicidal thoughts, potentially saving lives, according to some studies.

Depression is widespread among Americans. Annually, 13-14 million are seriously depressed and lose interest in normal activities and relationships for up to several weeks, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Other symptoms can include fatigue, impaired concentration, insomnia, hypersomnia (excessive sleep), significant weight loss (more than 5 percent of body weight in a month) and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Experts aren’t sure how ketamine combats depression, but they think it works differently than common antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft – which may help explain why patients not helped by them respond positively to ketamine.

Ketamine seems to work quickly, unlike most antidepressants that often take weeks, even months, to provide relief.

But it takes more than one dose and requires beforehand a full, expert assessment of a patient’s individual mental and physical health. Dr. Matt McCarty warns that the ketamine infusions (six times over 12 days) should only be done after a patient undergoes psychiatric counseling and has tried different kinds of antidepressants without success.

“It’s unconventional, but there is increasing evidence that it can work for patients who’ve found the usual treatment options unhelpful,” he said.

Ketamine can be delivered in a carefully controlled setting via intravenous infusion at Balcones Pain Consultants. It is important to note that ketamine for depression is not FDA-approved and is considered an off-label (investigational) treatment.


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