How Ketamine Works: The Miracle (And Mystery) Behind How Ketamine Works

Depression is currently the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 16 million adults in the United States each year.

Traditionally the symptoms of prolonged sadness, irritability and hopeless have been treated with antidepressant medications. The downfall of these medications is that they take weeks—if not months—to begin working. Another downfall is that many people fail to respond to these drugs altogether.

Recently, the FDA approved a new type of depression medication that is both fast-acting and highly effective for treating the symptoms of depression. Esketamine, marketed under the trademarked name Spravato™, is used in those who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. With esketamine, patients can experience relief within hours instead of weeks or months. This breakthrough, inspired by the discovery of ketamine for depression, has sparked excitement amongst the psychiatric community.

Ketamine is not a new drug. It was first synthesized in 1962 and has been used since as an anesthetic for both humans and animals. It is only within the past few decades that ketamine has been studied for its ability to alleviate the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mood disorders. Research has shown ketamine to be effective for about 70% of patients, compared to the 40% who respond to traditional antidepressants. Furthermore, ketamine—when administered intravenously in sub-anesthetic doses—works oftentimes within hours. How it works…well, researchers have a few theories.

For depression, researchers believe that ketamine actually changes the synapses in the brain. Those suffering from depression experience a loss of synapses in a certain area of the brain, but when given a dose of ketamine, these same synapses were restored, indicating that the drug was helping to repair those damaged circuits.

It is also thought that ketamine works so well because it targets a different neurotransmitter than traditional antidepressants. Ketamine targets glutamate, which produces and balances Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter. Overactive glutamate receptor genes can cause imbalances with GABA, causing changes in mental health. Namely, a depletion of GABA can result in depression.

Because ketamine is so effective for the treatment of depression, researchers will continue to study how ketamine affects the brain. Right now, ketamine as a treatment for depression tends to wear off within a few months, requiring that patients receive maintenance infusions to prolong their positive results. However, the discovery of ketamine for depression has unlocked so much information about how the brain works. With this new knowledge, depression research is rapidly moving in a new direction: the direction of hope.

Contact Renew Ketamine

Renew Ketamine is Chicagoland’s leading provider of ketamine infusions for depression and pain. Contact us today for a free consultation and find out if you or a loved one is a candidate for ketamine infusion therapy.