Chronic pain and depression are two common ailments that millions of people live with daily. The World Health Organization estimates that five percent of adults suffer from depression globally. Recent studies have also found that “Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the global burden of disease.”
Chronic pain is another critical issue that significantly reduces the quality of life for millions of people worldwide. The National Institutes of Health states, “Chronic pain is among the most common chronic conditions in the United States.” A 2019 survey found that “50.2 million adults (20.5%) reported pain on most days or every day.”
While there are various treatment options for chronic pain and depression, they don’t always work. An increasing number of doctors and therapists have been focusing on alternative treatments for both, including psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs. Yale University and the National Institutes of Health recently identified numerous benefits of using ketamine to treat various mood disorders. The use of ketamine for depression has been named “the biggest discovery in mental health in decades.”
Please keep reading to learn about ketamine and its use as a fast-acting treatment option for pain, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and many other mood disorders.
What is Ketamine?
The FDA originally approved ketamine in 1970 as an anesthetic. While it’s a commonly used medication in veterinary offices, it’s not as common in hospitals for humans. However, over the last 50 years, ketamine has been widely researched and used as a treatment option for children and adults in emergency departments, trauma medicine, ambulances, surgery, and war zones.
Ketamine is commonly used as an anesthetic in simple medical procedures in humans. However, has developed an image outside of the medical space as an abused psychedelic-drug. More recently, ketamine has been a part of modern research for its incredible relieving capabilities in much lower doses for treatment-resistant mental illnesses and chronic pain. The World Health Organization lists ketamine as an “essential medication” due to its therapeutic effects and known safety margin.
How Does Ketamine Work for Depression and Mood Disorders?
Ketamine is known as an NMDA receptor antagonist. It’s classified as a dissociative anesthetic, which means that it separates the mind and body, thus leading to an “awake dream” where the body is considered numb and the mind is awake.. It does this by selectively targeting specific chemical receptors in the brain, including the NMDA receptor, which is linked closely with chronic pain. It also works on other receptors in the brain, including GABA and G protein-coupled receptors.
While many professional researchers have yet to pinpoint precisely how ketamine so rapidly and effectively affects mood, it has been determined that it works on a neurotransmitter called glutamate. When increased, glutamate causes a cascade effect that increases the brain’s communication and neural activity. This awakens areas of the brain that shut down during episodes of depression and anxiety. Ketamine also causes new neural growth, which “rewires” the brain for long-lasting anti-depressant effects. This is otherwise known as neurogenesis.
Where chronic pain is concerned, ketamine blocks some of the electrical activity that flows toward the brain, which prevents the body and mind from registering pain signals.
When ketamine is administered appropriately in a safe environment and titrated in the correct doses by a trained professional, its various mechanisms create a powerful treatment option for chronic pain, depression, and other mood disorders. It helps patients experience feelings of relaxation and significant relief from chronic depression, anxiety, pain, and even migraine headaches.
What to Expect During Ketamine Treatment
The ketamine experience is individualized and circumstantial for each patient, depending on how their body metabolizes the medicine, how deep the mental illness and/or chronic pain is, as well as how much integral support is available. The experience can feel like a dream, where hallucinations combine with dissociation to facilitate processing of some of the deepest of trauma mental health patients are unable to process in a conscious state. A ketamine infusion can consist of various colors, sensations and insights. It is important to note, in the psychedelic healing space; “bad trips” are replaced with verbiage such as “challenging infusions” which are the best and most crucial work to occur. Patients may sing, become emotional and talk which is significantly important in processing what is taking up or “overflowing” inside their subconscious mind.
That being said, ketamine, like other drugs has various side effects and is not meant for everyone. Ketamine is incredibly safe, however, not recommened for those who experience seizures, strokes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, schizophrenia and other disorders. It is essential for ketamine patients to be monitored by a skillfully trained anesthesia provider while undergoing this particular treatment to ensure a safe and therapeutic experience.
If you’re interested in ketamine treatment but aren’t sure what the process involves, here’s an overview of what to expect.
First, you’ll meet with a doctor who will ask a series of questions and put together a treatment protocol with the dosage amount, rate, and duration. When it’s time for your first treatment, you’ll be situated in a comfortable private room and made to relax. An IV will be inserted into an arm vein, and monitors will be connected to track your vital signs. The entire treatment should take 45 minutes to an hour.
IV ketamine is felt within 10-12 minutes versus IM, which is more rapidly felt within 3-5 minutes. Both routes of administration last a duration of 45 minutes and allow for the same experience. It is suggested that new ketamine patients start their treatment with the IV route and continue their maintenance infusions (if needed) with IM. IM is also commonly used for patients who are nervous with needles. However, it’s not recommended because once it’s administered it can no longer be adjusted, unlike IV, which can be stopped, slowed down, or sped up.
Following the infusion, patients are given time to journal, reflect, and come back at their own pace before being transported home by a family member or friend. Patients are absolutely not allowed to operate any machinery for 12 hours following their treatment.
Additionally, medications such as Toradol and Zofran are given to patients who are easily prone to headaches or nausea following treatment.
If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic pain, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mood disorders, ketamine can help provide relief. We also offer integrative coaching and group therapy as part of the treatment process. Furthermore, PTSD treatment is available to those who request it at a nominal fee. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to learn more.