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Ketamine for Mental Health: What You Need to Know

Depression is undoubtedly a complex topic, and some people find that treatment can sometimes be slow, frustrating, or downright unhelpful. After all, it can be discouraging to feel like things aren't getting better.

In recent years, ketamine for mental health has become a more mainstream medication approach. It may be a promising solution if you haven't responded well to other treatments. Here's what you need to know.

A Brief History of Ketamine Treatment

Ketamine is a relatively new drug that was first approved in the 1960s. Initially, it was prescribed as general anesthesia for animals. In 1970, the FDA approved its anesthetic use for humans. Around this time, military personnel also administered it to soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Ketamine can help ease moderate or severe pain. When used in hospital settings, patients typically need fewer opioids. And unlike other anesthetics, ketamine doesn't impact one's breathing or heart rate- therefore, people don't need to be on a ventilator when receiving it as a treatment.

In recent years, ketamine has gained significant traction as a promising remedy for depression. If a patient responds favorably to ketamine, the drug can rapidly reduce severe depression symptoms, including suicidal thoughts.

How Does Ketamine for Mental Health Work?

It's important to note that researchers aren't exactly sure how or why ketamine works. That said, it likely has to do with how the drug targets NMDA receptors in the brain. This process inadvertently increases glutamate activity. Doing so can improve neural communication, which helps with thought patterns, cognition, and mood regulation.

The FDA has currently approved one type of ketamine depression treatment. It is a nasal spray called Spravato, and it's prescribed for adults considered "treatment-resistant" to other depression approaches.

Patients on ketamine treatment typically receive Spravato twice a week for 1-4 weeks. The amount usually tapers in the second and third months. Most treatments conclude at six weeks, although the length will vary based on the patient's history and current medical needs.

Although they are not FDA-approved (or even a first-line depression treatment), ketamine infusions have also become increasingly popular. Infusions work by intravenous administration, meaning the drug goes directly to the patient's bloodstream.

Ketamine infusions tend to work immediately. Most patients notice relief right after taking their prescribed dose.

The effects can persist for several days or weeks. Most people receive about six infusions over 2-3 weeks. Maintenance begins after that period, and patients may receive 1-2 infusions every 2-6 weeks.

In some cases, ketamine can be a standalone treatment. However, many patients take ketamine along with other prescribed medications and psychotherapy.

What Are the Side Effects of Ketamine?

All drugs have side effects, which can range in their severity. Furthermore, everyone responds to medication differently, so what works for someone else may not work in the same ways for you. Common ketamine side effects include:

  • double or blurred vision

  • dizziness

  • nausea or vomiting

  • appetite changes

  • sleep disturbances and insomnia

  • high blood pressure

  • jerky or uncontrollable muscle movements

It's common for patients to experience drowsiness or twilight sleep when undergoing treatment. So, while you are not fully asleep when receiving ketamine, you may feel like you're half-dreaming.

Furthermore, some people experience dissociation or perceptual disturbances on ketamine. For example, time may feel distorted. Certain noises, textures, or sensations may feel overwhelming. Likewise, you might have experiences of being "out of your body," even if you logically know that you are safe. These symptoms usually disappear quickly, and they tend to be the strongest during the first time taking the medication.

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Ketamine can be abused for recreational purposes. People may use it in high doses for its hallucinogenic and tranquilizer-like effects. On the street, ketamine is often known by its slang terms Special K, Vitamin K, Cat Valium, Purple, or Super Acid.

Ketamine is currently classified as a Schedule III drug, meaning the DEA classifies it as having a low to moderate potential for addiction. Schedule III drugs can be obtained with a prescription, but they are illegal to use without this prescription.

For this reason, it's essential to outweigh the potential risks and benefits of ketamine with your treatment team. In its controlled, intended use, ketamine can significantly improve your mental health. But it's still important to be cautious of using anything that may jeopardize your recovery efforts.

Final Thoughts

We still don't have long-term research on the benefits of ketamine. But, as we become more aware (and aggressive) in treating mental health, this treatment is likely to continue rising in popularity.

At The Resurface Group, we believe treatment should be customized and unique to each individual's needs. After all, everyone is different. For this reason, we never subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach.

We are here to support you in your recovery. Contact us today to get started!

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