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Ketamine is a drug that has only existed for a few decades. Its initial discovery was in 1962. It’s medical potential was almost immediately recognized, and human trials of the drug began in 1964. It received approval for use in humans in the United States in 1970, and it has been used for various medical purposes since then.
Ketamine is sometimes used as a surgical anesthesia, because it is safer than other anesthesia, as it reduced respiration less than other options. However, it can cause hallucinations, so it is often used in combination with other drugs. Sometimes, it is used as a disassociative medicine for those receiving emergency medical treatment. Ketamine can also help with pain management for people after surgery. Some facilities use it in combination with opiates for intractable pain.
However, the reason we’re discussing this drug today is that it has also recently received attention as possible treatment option for those with treatment-resistant depression. Unlike many other anti-depressants, which take days or weeks to build up to the intended effect, ketamine has a rapid effect on those struggling with depression. Many people experience depression relief within four hours of a dose, while others may take slightly longer, up to 24 hours. The effects may persist for some time, meaning that patients only require two to three doses per week.
Ketamine is a NMDA receptor antagonist, and researchers are keen to try similar compounds as depression treatments. Unfortunately, ketamine is not approved as an antidepressant. That means that getting access to ketamine and finding a way to pay for it can be difficult. While ketamine costs pennies per dose to create, patients often pay hundreds of dollars per treatment session, without any insurance assistance.
Those who have tried this drug for depression usually report improvements in depression symptoms. As many as 75-80% of those treated with ketamine self-reported an improvement in depression symptoms. It is often administered intravenously, with careful medical supervision. Exhaustion and sleep usually accompany the initial ketamine treatment.
However, after you rest, you may experience a noticeable reduction in symptoms. Also, there may soon be a nasal spray version of the drug available, which could make administration much simpler for patients. As more research shows the potential of ketamine to stave off the worst symptoms of depression, more doctors are interested in offering it as an (off-label) treatment.
It is very important that those using ketamine stop their use responsibly and under the care of a physician. Symptoms of withdrawal may include shakiness, increased perspiration, irregular heartbeat and anxiety. For those already struggling with mental health concerns, it is important that you approach ending the use of a drug carefully.
That being said, ketamine appears to offer a workable form of relief for people whose depression is overwhelming or resistant to treatment. Ketamine is federally listed as a Schedule II substance, making it one of many drugs with potential benefits that people struggle to safely access.
Hopefully, as research and anecdote about the potential benefits of ketamine therapy keep coming in, policy regarding this potentially life-saving drug will change.