How does ketamine for depression work? Well, answer that question and you could be a lifesaver to hundreds of millions worldwide.

How does Ketamine work for depression? If you can answer that question you’re ahead of the game. After all, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 264 million people are affected by depression and at least a third of those suffer from treatment-resistant strains. Ketamine has been proven to provide fast, effective relief from such strains but researchers still don’t fully understand why. Resolving this mystery would unlock new, life-saving treatment avenues that would gain readier access to regulatory approval and public acceptance. After all, the notion of ketamine for depression is often met with skepticism due to the medication’s common association with recreational substance abuse. Nonetheless, in 2019 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Spravato, a ketamine-derived nasal spray, for treatment-resistant depression and other regulatory bodies such as the European Commission (EC) quickly followed suit.  

According to Tiffany Farchione, M.D., acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Spravato’s approval was driven by “a long-standing need for additional effective treatments for treatment-resistant depression, a serious and life-threatening condition,” and upon the basis of “controlled clinical trials that studied the safety and efficacy of this drug.” While scientists might not have a definitive answer to the question “how does ketamine work for depression?”, they know that it does work. What’s more, they know it works extraordinarily quickly, and in a way that no other current treatment does.

In 2000, a team at Yale University published the results of a small study that saw patients find relief from depression in a matter of hours after taking a small dose of ketamine. Six years later the study’s authors replicated their work with a larger group and found similar results. These outcomes shook the field of mental health research as existing therapies for major depression had an onset lag of several weeks, resulting in considerable morbidity. Rapid onset antidepressants simply seemed too good to be true. 

Recent Ketamine Studies

Since these early studies, research into ketamine for depression has accelerated and innovative treatment approaches have been introduced. Between 2015 and 2018 the number of clinics in the US administering ketamine treatment grew from 60 to over 300. Most of these clinics specialize in providing ketamine infusion therapy, which delivers the two mirror-image ketamine molecules intravenously. Ketamine was approved decades ago by the FDA for use as an anesthetic but has yet to gain approval for use in treating depression. 

Bureaucratic foot-dragging notwithstanding, ketamine infusions for depression have proven to be even more effective than indicated by early studies. In 2019 researchers published results demonstrating that patients treated with intravenous ketamine showed significant improvement in depression and anxiety within the first hour of the first dose and sustained well-being for a month after their last dose. Such outcomes are unheard of and offer extraordinary hope to the millions worldwide who have failed to find relief from depression elsewhere. 

As scientists continue to better understand how ketamine for depression works, regulatory approval promises to expand and treatment approaches promise to grow more refined. Meanwhile, those who suffer from treatment-resistant depression can breathe a little easier knowing that there may yet be light at the end of the tunnel. 

Vitalitas Denver is a leading ketamine treatment center with a psychiatric nurse practitioner on staff who can help you determine the best options for major depressive disorder treatment, whether it be ketamine infusions or some combination of the depression treatments described above. If you or a loved one is suffering from debilitating depression, there’s no reason to delay. Complete the brief form below and take the first step towards mental health and wellness.

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