When depression or anxiety strikes, it can go from an everyday lingering sadness in the background, to a debilitating sensation that impedes with force. Treating these conditions as early and effectively as possible is critical to the sustenance of life, as it can develop and worsen to a life-threatening point.
More than 264 million people of all ages suffer from feeling depressed. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide. The most severe type of cases lead to suicide, which is the leading cause of death for individuals 15-29 years of age.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine was popularized for its use as an anesthetic. It was patented in Belgium and Germany in 1963. In the 1970’s it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Following its popularization, it was used heavily as a sedative during the Vietnam War.
Being a mild hallucinogenic, it has developed a negative connotation due to its association with the party scene. However, ketamine has found a place in treating depression and anxiety for its effect on the brain. For those who experience a lack of effectiveness with medication or delay of relief, researchers began to search for methods of treatment that were more central to what causes depression.
What Does Ketamine do to the Brain?
Ketamine was first investigated as a potential solution for depression in the 2000s. It has been concluded to aid with depression for its relationship with the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate is responsible for making neurons more active and facilitating the new connections in the brain.
This means it is concerned with functions like learning, memory, cognitive processing, and emotions. According to research conducted by Yale Medicine, the use of ketamine came about as a result of scientists observing unusual glutamate interactions in the brains of those who suffer from depression.
Ketamine is used to block the glutamate receptor in the brain (NMDA). In theory, this would weaken neural activity, but it does not. It has the opposite effect, helping to alleviate symptoms of depression. Essentially, it addresses an imbalance of overactive glutamate receptors.
It’s concerning other neurotransmitter Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) that deals with mood regulation and the ability to self-soothe. Low levels of this neurotransmitter, in combination with the overactive glutamate, can onset depression and anxiety—Ketamine aids in balancing these chemicals in the brain.
The process can be broken down into three phases:
- Activation: Relaxation and sedation occur from the brain’s opiate receptors that become activated by the ketamine.
- Balance: Glutamate and GABA are balanced.
- Reset: The brain stabilizes, resetting from previous patterns that may have caused feelings of depression, and especially suicide.
Evidence of the Efficacy of Ketamine for Anxiety and Depression
Approximately 16.1 million Americans suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Of these, more than half do not respond optimally to their first antidepressant treatment. Less than half do not experience any relief from medications or treatments. This has created an enormous need for an alternative, considering how severe depression may become if not treated.
In one study, it was concluded that individuals who underwent a single intravenous infusion of ketamine experienced rapid antidepressant effects for their treatment-resistant depression. The effects were prolonged when the dosage was repeated. It was stated that more research is needed to prove sure efficacy, but that the result proves to be promising.
Another study yielded similar results, reporting findings that ketamine produces a rapid antidepressant response with effects lasting for approximately one week. It determined that further studies might be beneficial to understand why the effects do not last and if there are ways to sustain them.
Mental Disorders Prime for Ketamine Infusion Therapy
It appears to be more prevalent among women. However, particular research alludes to the possibility that the numbers are skewed based on the likelihood of diagnosis or seeking treatment according to gender. People who experience depression may be categorized as chronic, meaning for an extended period, undergoing depressive episodes.
Those who experience chronic or severe anxiety may suffer from mental health problems such as panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Severe cases may lead to an individual experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The National Institute of Mental Health estimates about 3.2 million people who qualify to be diagnosed with GAD.
Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, co-occurring, or preceding one another. Many times those with a history of an anxiety disorder may eventually experience depression.
Typical Solutions to Depression and Anxiety
Conventional treatments for clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety are similar. Treatments and therapies often used are as follows.
Psychotherapy: Also known as “talk therapy.” Involves speaking with a mental healthcare professional to work through and manage symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A type of psychotherapy that helps individuals to rewire their way of thinking and behaving. It may help to alleviate the thoughts and actions that come as a result of the disorder and further enable it.
Medication: It does not “cure” disorders, but rather ease symptoms. Benzodiazepines and buspirone are common anti-anxiety medications used. Antidepressants are used to treat both anxiety and depression. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin-norephedrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are most common. These are followed by tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine inhibitors (MAOIs), and beta-blockers.
Those who are Treatment-Resistant
While treatments above and therapies tend to work for most who seek mental health assistance for anxiety and depression, it does not work for everyone. Some people who suffer from these conditions might try each of these methods only to find that the symptoms reoccur after some time, or are not relieved at all.
At this point, solutions may be to examine other parts of the individual’s life to see if anything else may be amended, treated, or even diagnosed. Further diagnosis may be needed, but if all avenues have been exhausted, alternative medicine may be of benefit. This is where we may insert the idea of ketamine infusion in therapy.
Concerns with Ketamine
It seems that the efficacy of ketamine for anxiety and depression is less dependent on whether or not the effects may alleviate symptoms but instead regarding potential effects. While the use of ketamine may have adverse effects, they are not typical, or generally mild.
More research is necessary to determine if there are serious long-term side effects of ketamine infusion. Given that it is medically regulated and side effects are managed with the supervision of a physician, ketamine infusion therapy is not likely to cause immediate harm or danger to health.
It is possible that with a more clinical investigation, ketamine infusion therapy may become a reliable method for treating anxiety and depression.