Depression, anxiety, and chronic pain can be some of the most distressing symptoms of chronic illness. Severe depression, anxiety, and pain can interfere with all aspects of daily life – at times making it impossible to work, take care of family, and even maintain basic self-care.
In some cases, these symptoms are stubbornly resistant to conventional treatments, leaving patients to manage on their own as best they can.
Ketamine may be an answer for patients struggling with these symptoms after conventional treatments have failed. Though researchers still don’t understand exactly how ketamine works in the body, it has the potential to rapidly alleviate depression with suicidality, anxiety, and chronic pain – at times in a matter of hours. For those struggling with debilitating symptoms, ketamine could be a life-saving intervention.
What is ketamine?
Ketamine is a pharmaceutical drug originally developed in the 1960s for use as an anesthetic. In the year 2000, researchers discovered that ketamine is also useful as a treatment for depression, and that it often rapidly resolves depression that doesn’t respond well to other treatments. In 2019, ketamine was FDA approved for treatment-resistant depression and suicidality. Currently, doctors are exploring ketamine for the treatment of anxiety and chronic pain as well.
What conditions respond to ketamine?
Doctors are using ketamine to help alleviate psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. Ketamine is also showing effectiveness against chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia and chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPD). Talk with a qualified doctor to make sure ketamine is a fit for you personally.
What we know about how ketamine works
As mentioned above, researchers are still unsure about how exactly ketamine works in the body. This is common for many drugs – research will often show that a drug is effective before scientists understand exactly why. The body is vastly complex, and it’s quite difficult to map drug interactions exactly. More study is needed, especially on humans, to understand the mechanisms behind ketamine.
That said, scientists have some understanding of ketamine’s actions. A 2019 study on mice showed that exposure to long-term stress may cause damage to nerve cells in the brain, disrupting neural circuitry and causing symptoms of depression. Ketamine therapy rapidly restored neural function in the stressed mice, reversing their symptoms. Some scientists theorize that ketamine encourages neural activity generally, which may enhance plasticity in the brain – meaning the brain’s ability to make new neural connections. Enhanced plasticity may play a part in helping patients’ brain function normalize.
How ketamine is administered
Ketamine is administered through IV infusion under supervision in a doctor’s office. The dosage depends on your condition. Most people need a series of infusions to effectively alleviate symptoms. Some people need to return occasionally for booster treatments to maintain their health. A qualified doctor will customize a ketamine protocol that works for your unique situation.
What does a ketamine treatment feel like?
Everyone responds to ketamine differently, but most find it deeply relaxing and pleasurable. Though ketamine is sometimes used illegally as a street drug, the experience of a ketamine infusion in a doctor’s office is not normally a “high”. The dosage is controlled, and you will be closely monitored for safety. For most, the experience is relaxing and enjoyable.
Is ketamine safe?
Generally, ketamine is safe and well tolerated. Occasionally, patients will experience some nausea, dizziness, or fatigue, during or after treatment. If you tend to react to medications with nausea, talk with your doctor about anti-nausea medications that can be taken before treatment. Also, be sure to have a safe ride home planned, in case you experience fatigue.
Some people experience feelings of dissociation during ketamine treatments. During dissociation, a person may feel disconnected from their body, and removed from thoughts and feelings. Dissociation can also cause changes in the perception of time passing. For some, dissociation is pleasant, and for others it can be disturbing. If you’ve had negative experiences with dissociation, be sure to discuss it with your practitioner before a ketamine treatment.
For patients whose symptoms of depression, anxiety, or chronic pain are severe, and have not been relieved by conventional treatments, ketamine could be a life-saving intervention. For some, ketamine can rapidly alleviate these debilitating symptoms in a matter of hours. Most people will need a series of ketamine infusions, followed by booster treatments for maintenance over time. Ketamine is generally safe and well-tolerated, with few side-effects. If you think ketamine might be right for you, speak with a qualified practitioner.
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