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Fast Facts About Ketamine for Depression

Living with depression can feel isolating and overwhelming—and sometimes those feelings take a long time to pass. Antidepressants can help alleviate the pain for some, yet others with treatment-resistant depression struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is, however, another option in the form of a medication called ketamine.

If you’re interested in seeking ketamine treatment, you probably have a few questions about how it all works. Here is a quick overview to help you along your journey to healing.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine was developed in the 1960s as an anesthetic for surgical procedures. Interested in the drug’s mind-altering effects, researchers explored the possibility of its impact on mental health disorders. Ketamine—known as “Special K”—gained popularity as a street drug in the 1980s. In later years, the drug’s reputation took a turn for the better when it became widely used as a treatment for mental health disorders. 

Am I a good candidate for ketamine?

Ketamine is an option for people with depression who are unable to get relief from other treatments. Studies have shown promising results about the drug’s impact on various mental health conditions, including anxiety, OCD, and substance-use disorders.

It’s important to note that ketamine can elevate the heart rate and blood pressure, so patients with pre-existing health conditions should speak with their doctors before seeking treatment. Ketamine is also not advisable for patients with certain psychiatric conditions.  

What can I expect in therapy?

With the growing number of ketamine clinics in cities across the country, it can be difficult to describe a typical therapy session, says Benjamin Lewis, MD, PhD, director of the Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) clinic at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI). He advises patients to do some research and speak with their providers before making an appointment.

“Pairing ketamine treatments with psychotherapy may help sustain benefits from these treatments,” Lewis says. “In part because you are engaging with this psychotherapeutic process under conditions where the brain is more flexible and open to change.”

Ketamine therapy options

How does ketamine impact the brain?

Ketamine can produce a wide range of changes to conscious experience, including sensory changes and emotional changes. Used in low doses, ketamine alters levels of glutamate (a chemical messenger) in the brain, which can result in new neural connections. The brain becomes more adaptable and creates new pathways, giving patients the opportunity to develop more positive thoughts and feelings.

How long does ketamine last?

Long-term antidepressants can take weeks to alleviate depression. Ketamine, however, provides relief quickly, but the effects from a single treatment often fade after a week or so. Patients may need a series of treatments or an ongoing schedule of intermittent treatments to alleviate their symptoms.  

What are the side effects?

These common symptoms are normal and generally dissipate within a couple hours after treatment:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Changes to vision
  • Imbalance

How much does ketamine cost?

Insurance rarely covers most ketamine treatments, and a single session can cost from $300 to more than $800. Some insurance companies cover the FDA-approved Spravato nasal treatment, but other treatments are typically paid out of pocket.  

How can ketamine boost my overall well-being?

Untreated or uncontrolled depression can take a big toll on your physical health, leading to a host of ailments that could further diminish your quality of life. Ketamine can be a valuable tool in your arsenal against depression—offering new hope for happier and healthier days ahead. Whether or not this treatment is right for you, it’s important to prioritize your mental health and to get the resources you need. Seek help immediately if you or a loved one are facing a mental health crisis.