What is Ketamine Used for in Mental Health?

Medically reviewed by Mark Hrymoc, MD

Ketamine is used in mental health primarily to treat depression, notably treatment-resistant depression. It’s also being explored for treating other conditions like PTSD, anxiety disorders, and certain chronic pain conditions. Its rapid-acting, antidepressant effects offer a lifeline to those who have found limited relief from conventional treatments.

Mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and others, are debilitating conditions that impact millions worldwide. For many of these individuals, conventional treatments like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and cognitive behavioral therapy provide relief. However, for a significant number, these standard therapies fall short, leaving them trapped in a cycle of unyielding symptoms.

This predicament, known as treatment-resistant mental health disorders, can create a profound sense of hopelessness for affected individuals. The longer the symptoms persist, the greater the risk of harmful consequences, including personal and professional life disruption, strained relationships, and in severe cases, increased suicidal tendencies. This critical gap in mental healthcare is a pressing issue needing immediate attention.

Enter ketamine therapy – a promising approach breaking new ground in the field of mental health. It’s showing unprecedented effectiveness in individuals with treatment-resistant disorders, providing a ray of hope to those who have been living under the cloud of relentless mental health symptoms.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine, a synthetic compound introduced in 1970, has a rich history of diverse use. It was initially developed as an anesthetic for human and veterinary use, but growing scientific evidence has supported its therapeutic use and benefits in mental health and pain management over the past few decades. 

Its unique properties, especially rapid-acting antidepressant effects, have shifted focus towards its potential in treating a range of conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and certain chronic pain disorders. 

How Does Ketamine Work?

Ketamine works in the brain in unique ways that set it apart from typical antidepressants. Its primary target is the NMDA receptor, which it blocks. These receptors are part of the glutamate system, involved in learning, memory, and neuroplasticity.

Ketamine increases BDNF in the brain, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which  stimulates the growth of synaptic connections, essentially rewiring parts of the brain. This effect is believed to be key in reversing the damage caused by chronic stress and depression.

Ketamine’s effects are also rapid. Traditional antidepressants can take weeks to show effect, working indirectly by increasing levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine. Ketamine, however, can bring about significant improvements in mood within hours.

What is Ketamine Used for in Mental Health?

Ketamine is making significant strides in the mental health field, primarily due to its rapid-acting antidepressant effects. It’s increasingly used as a treatment option for severe depression, particularly treatment-resistant depression, where other interventions have failed. Studies show that even a single dose can rapidly reduce depressive symptoms, often within hours.

In addition to depression, ketamine has shown promise in treating anxiety disorders, offering potential relief for individuals with severe or treatment-resistant anxiety. Research also suggests its potential utility in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), thanks to its ability to help “rewire” the brain.

While more research is needed to fully understand the breadth of ketamine’s potential, its unique properties are challenging previous limitations of mental health treatments. As we deepen our understanding of ketamine’s role in mental health, we may uncover additional applications in the future.

Ketamine Therapy for Depression

Depression is a debilitating mental health disorder, affecting millions worldwide. Traditional antidepressants, though effective for some, often require weeks to take effect and fail to help a significant portion of patients. This is where ketamine therapy has shown promise.

Ketamine, due to its rapid-acting nature, often shows antidepressant effects within hours. This is potentially life-changing for those suffering from severe, suicidal depression. Furthermore, its effectiveness in treatment-resistant depression cases offers hope to those for whom other treatments have failed.

Clinical trials and patient experiences continue to support ketamine’s role in depression therapy. Yet, it’s not a magic bullet. It’s a tool, one that offers immediate relief and can work as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Beyond Depression: Other Mental Health Applications of Ketamine

While the initial focus of ketamine therapy was on depression, its range of potential uses doesn’t stop there. Emerging research suggests promising applications for other mental health conditions, presenting a new hope for treatment-resistant cases.

Anxiety disorders, for example, have shown to respond positively to ketamine therapy in various studies. Ketamine may offer rapid relief, a critical factor considering the often debilitating nature of acute anxiety episodes.

Another important area is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traditional treatment methods can be slow and sometimes ineffective, leaving sufferers in prolonged distress. Initial research indicates that ketamine can potentially alleviate symptoms of PTSD swiftly and effectively.

The Procedure of Ketamine Therapy

Before delving into the actual procedure of ketamine therapy, it’s crucial to understand that preparation plays a key role. Patients typically undergo a thorough psychiatric and medical evaluation to determine their suitability for the treatment.

Once approved, the actual therapy begins. Ketamine can be administered in various ways, including intravenous infusions, intramuscular injections, or nasal spray. The choice largely depends on the healthcare provider’s recommendation and the patient’s specific needs.

During a session, which typically lasts 45 minutes to a few hours, patients are monitored for vital signs and comfort level. The treatment often leads to a feeling of disconnection from the environment, which some describe as a ‘journey.’

Post-treatment, patients usually need time to recover. They may feel tired or slightly disoriented but typically report improvements in mood and pain within hours to days. It’s essential to plan for rest and avoid driving immediately after the session.

Ketamine Intravenous Infusion

Ketamine intravenous infusion refers to the administration of ketamine directly into a patient’s bloodstream through an intravenous (IV) line. This is one of the most common methods of administering ketamine for therapeutic purposes, especially in the context of mental health treatments and chronic pain management.

In this procedure, a healthcare professional will insert an IV line into the patient’s vein, usually on the arm, and the ketamine is then slowly infused over a certain period of time. The dosage and infusion speed are carefully controlled and monitored throughout the procedure.

The advantage of intravenous infusion is that it allows for the immediate and precise delivery of the drug into the bloodstream, ensuring that it can reach the brain without being first metabolized by the body. This method also allows healthcare providers to precisely control the dosage and rapidly adjust it if necessary.

It’s important to note that ketamine infusion should be administered under the supervision of trained medical professionals, given the drug’s potential side effects and the need for careful monitoring of the patient’s response. Prior to the treatment, a comprehensive medical evaluation is typically performed to ensure the patient’s safety and to determine the appropriate dosage.

Ketamine Intramuscular Injections

Ketamine intramuscular injections are a method of administering ketamine directly into a muscle, typically a large one like the deltoid in the shoulder or the gluteus in the hip.

Intramuscular (IM) injection allows for the drug to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the muscle fibers, which can facilitate a relatively rapid onset of effects. This is because the muscular tissue has a good blood supply that can deliver the drug throughout the body efficiently.

In a therapeutic setting, intramuscular ketamine injections are often used because they allow for more controlled administration than oral or intranasal methods, and are less invasive than intravenous (IV) administration. It is, however, crucial that these injections be administered by a trained healthcare provider to ensure correct dosage and prevent potential complications.

Ketamine Nasal Spray

Ketamine nasal spray, esketamine, is a method of administering ketamine for medical use. This form of ketamine is typically used in the treatment of certain mental health conditions, notably depression, especially when it’s treatment-resistant.

The nasal spray allows for a non-invasive and self-administered application of the drug, which absorbs into the bloodstream through the nasal membranes. One such product is called Spravato, which is a brand name for esketamine (a form of ketamine) nasal spray, and it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019 for use in conjunction with an oral antidepressant in adults with treatment-resistant depression.

It’s important to note that the use of this treatment should be under the supervision of a healthcare professional due to the potential for serious side effects and the risk of misuse.

Schedule an Evaluation with a Mental Health Professional

Living with treatment-resistant depression is an extremely challenging and disheartening experience. You’ve tried multiple treatments, perhaps different medications or therapies, yet the heavy cloud of depression refuses to lift. This relentless struggle can make you feel isolated and hopeless, significantly impacting your quality of life.

The longer this cycle continues, the more profound the impacts become. Every day might feel like a constant battle with your own emotions, hindering your personal relationships, career progress, and self-worth. Without effective treatment, the effects of depression can continue to erode your joy, vitality, and hope, trapping you in a seemingly endless cycle of despair.

Don’t lose hope. The Mental Health Center in Los Angeles offers a lifeline with our cutting-edge and highly individualized ketamine therapy plans. Our center is renowned for its successful treatment of treatment-resistant depression, utilizing ketamine-assisted therapy. 

Scheduling an evaluation today to take the first step towards finding the treatment that can light your way out of the darkness. You are not alone in this battle, and with our dedicated professionals by your side, a brighter, healthier future is within reach.