Recently, alternative methods for treating depression have emerged. There have been several alternative methods to treating depression that have strayed from the traditional thinking about depression medication. The most controversial of these new methods is the use of ketamine to alleviate depression symptoms. Some view ketamine as strictly a “party drug” with dangerous side effects, but a recent study from Stanford University shows it might be the next big thing in treating depression.


Traditional anti-depressants, or SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) like Celexa, Zoloft, or Lexapro work by affecting the brain’s serotonin network. They try to limit the amount of serotonin (a neurochemical that controls mood) lost by plugging up the parts of the braid where it escapes. This ultimately keeps more serotonin available in the brain, which in theory, should improve depression symptoms. The effectiveness of SSRIs, however, is very limited and as many as 80% who take them don’t feel that they work.


Ketamine for Depression

Ketamine works by activating a network of switches in the brain called the glutamate system. This system plays a major role in the transmitting of neurons and it has a profound effect on the body’s overall mental health. Unlike traditional SSRIs that block serotonin from escaping the brain, ketamine affects the key switches in the brain called NMDA receptors. Like serotonin receptors, NMDA receptors play a crucial role in keeping our mood and emotions in check.


“The rapid antidepressant effects of ketamine in patients with severe, chronic, and treatment-resistant forms of this illness may represent a true medical breakthrough.” – James Murrough, Professor of Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine


While SSRIs take months to see results, the effects of ketamine are seen within hours. These rapid results are due to NMDA receptors being plugged in the same way serotonin receptors are plugged by SSRIs. The Stanford study found that in addition to affecting the glutamate system, ketamine also activates the opioid system – the same one activated by opioid painkillers. Using a test group of 12 participants, half were given an infusion that blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, while the other half was given a placebo. All 12 were then given an infusion of ketamine. Those who had received the opioid blocker reported no improvement to their depression symptoms, while 90% of those who received the placebo reported alleviated depression symptoms for up to 3 days.


“Before we did the study, I had some doubts about ketamine’s use for depression. Now I’ve seen the drug work, but I’ve also seen it doesn’t work the way people originally thought.” – Alan Schatzberg, Professor of Psychiatry, Stanford University


Ketamine Treatment

Several private medical facilities as well as universities have started to administer ketamine to treat depression and study its effects. The process is subject to strict medical oversight and patients can receive infusions either by paying out of pocket, or by participating in university studies like those conducted at Stanford and Columbia. Ketamine is not cheap, and it isn’t quick to administer. Patients are typically advised to get 8 to 12 sessions, where ketamine is administered via an IV drip. Each session takes between 45 minutes and 2 hours to administer and can cost up to $500 to $750. Since these trials are experimental, treatment is not covered by insurance and when all is said and done can cost you approximately $9,000 for the full 12 sessions.


Dangers of Ketamine

Make no mistake, the drug trials for ketamine as a treatment for depression are highly restrictive and closely monitored. Ketamine is a very dangerous and addictive drug that has been linked to many drug-related deaths. The effects of ketamine when used illicitly cause a powerful high that occurs minutes after it is snorted or smoked. Large doses produce what some describe as a “K-hole,” which is an intense and unpleasant experience filled with hallucinations and frightening detachment from reality. Since ketamine is powerful painkiller, there is a high risk of injury while taking it.


Next Steps

Are you or a loved one suffering from depression? Are you self-medicating to alleviate your symptoms? While medical breakthroughs like new treatments for depression are encouraging, many people seek relief on their own and can wind up with addictions they can’t break alone. Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help you with advice on next steps. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.