Ketamine Infusion Therapy, How it Works and What to Expect

Can this long-used anesthetic be used to help those for which traditional antidepressants don’t work?

Did you know that out of the millions of people treated for depression every year, around 30% won’t have success with traditional anti-depression medications?. Simply put, these medications are not always compatible with everyone’s needs. The drugs don’t affect a patient’s mood, side effects of these drugs are too much to bear, or the repetition of taking medication on a daily basis is challenging. When a person can’t get their depression in check, they are at a higher risk of alcohol and drug abuse, hospitalization and suicide attempts. In order to do the most good for those in need, additional treatment methods need to be developed that can help those who typical anti-depression medication can’t treat.

Luckily, new treatments are being discovered in response to the need for alternative therapies to combat depression.There’s new research to support the use of the anesthesia drug ketamine as a reliable cure.

The name of this drug may ring a bell as it’s often touted as an illicit party drug due to its hallucinogenic effects, but it’s been used since the 1970s as a reliable, quick acting general anesthetic in the operating room and in small doses, as a pain management drug. Better regulation has helped to remove this drug from the streets and reduced the ability for it to be sold on the black market.

Using this drug in the treatment for depression seems to be effective for those who don’t find success in traditional antidepressants because it works differently and very quickly. A single dose of ketamine has been reported to dramatically reduce suicidal thoughts. Emergency treatments of this drug are helpful in ER settings to reduce negative, depressive thoughts, so medical professionals have time to help a patient in need.

Lower level doses come in the form of IV treatments over the course of a few weeks. These doses are administered at Ketamine clinics by anesthesiologists over a period of about two weeks. Doses take about 45 minutes to deliver. Side effects consist of general confusion, fuzzy vision and lucid daydreaming, but clear up quickly once the infusion is over. The beneficial effects of the infusions last anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks after the treatment is over. Patients can then come in for booster shots to extend the depression alleviating effects of the drug. Despite the high success rate, Ketamine is not yet FDA approved for the treatment of depression, so this procedure is not covered by insurance. The initial infusions can cost around $4,000, and the boosters can go for around $600.

As useful as this treatment is for treating short-term depression, the jury is still out as it relates to being a long-term depression treatment. Currently, only ketamine’s short-term effects have been studied. Not until this treatment option has been approved by the FDA and studied for long-term use will it be considered a viable alternative to antidepressants, but it’s well on it’s way to contributing to the fight against depression.

Dr. Jeffrey Ditzell is a Psychiatrist in New York City and specializes in issues involving anxiety depression and adult ADHD. Ketamine Infusion Therapy is one of the many treatments Dr. Ditzell offers to treat a variety of mental health issues.