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Ketamine for Depression: What to Know

Ketamine for depression maple grove
 Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on July 15, 2021

Jeff Winograd didn’t know an adult life without depression. Since he was 20 years old, he had tried virtually every antidepressant on the market. But he says, “The depression was just a constant.”

By the time he was 45 years old, by then a father of two small children and a struggling-at-the-time film and video producer in Portland, OR, Winograd had hit rock bottom. The depression was so severe that he felt paralyzed by it.

“I sat on the couch all day, unable to move, I couldn’t move my feet,” he says. “And I was suicidal. I would sit and try to figure out how I was going to do it without hurting my kids.”

It was around that time that a doctor friend told him about ketamine for treatment-resistant depression.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine for depression maple grove got its start in Belgium in the 1960s as an anesthesia medicine for animals. The FDA approved it as an anesthetic for people in 1970. It was used in treating injured soldiers on the battlefields in the Vietnam War. Unlike other anesthetics, ketamine doesn’t slow breathing or heart rate, so patients don’t need to be on a ventilator to receive it.

Emergency responders may give it to an agitated patient who, for example, they have rescued from a suicide attempt. That’s how Ken Stewart, MD, says doctors began to realize that the drug had powerful effects against depression and suicidal thoughts.

“Someone is trying to jump off a bridge and they give him ketamine in the ambulance to calm him down and 9 months later, he says, ‘I haven’t felt suicidal for 9 months.’

“When enough stories like that started to pile up, doctors said, ‘Maybe there’s something here,’” says Stewart, an emergency physician and founder of Insight Ketamine in Santa Fe, NM. Like the drug itself, Stewart got his start in combat medicine during the Vietnam War. Some doctors also use ketamine to treat suicidal thoughts.

Ketamine causes what doctors call a “dissociative experience” ketamine for depression maple grove and what most anyone else would call a “trip.” That’s how it became a club drug, called K, Special K, Super K, and Vitamin K among others. Partiers inject it, put it in drinks, snort it, or add it to joints or cigarettes

“Ketamine can produce feelings of unreality; visual and sensory distortions; a distorted feeling about one’s body; temporary unusual thoughts and beliefs; and a euphoria or a buzz,” says John Krystal, MD, chief of psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut, where he is a leader in studying ketamine’s antidepressant effects.

The trip lasts about 2 hours. But there are risks of casual use. The most serious are unconsciousness, high blood pressure, and dangerously slowed breathing. The drug could also cause long-term problems, such as ulcers and pain in the bladder; kidney problems; stomach pain; depression; and poor memory. Ketamine could be fatal for people who abuse alcohol or if you take it while you’re drunk.

But the drug’s potential as a treatment for depression and antidote to suicidal thoughts has drawn researchers’ attention. They’ve studied and administered it in controlled, clinical settings to help with treatment-resistant depression and other conditions.

To be clear: Casual use is not a treatment for depression. But doctors have developed a protocol for medically supervised use that may help people who don’t get relief from other medications.

“We’re reaching out in a new way to patients who have not responded to other kinds of treatments and providing, for some of them, the first time that they’ve gotten better from their depression,” Krystal says.

Receiving Ketamine

Ketamine comes in several forms. The only one that the FDA has approved as a medication for depression is a nasal spray called esketamine (Spravato). It’s for adults who either haven’t been helped by antidepressant pills, have major depressive disorder, or are suicidal. They continue on their antidepressant and receive esketamine at a doctor’s office or in a clinic, where a health care provider watches over them for 2 hours after the dose.

For treatment-resistant depression, patients usually get the nasal spray twice a week for 1 to 4 weeks; then once a week for weeks 5 to 9; and then once every week or 2 after that.

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