Ketamine was first developed in the 1960s for use in anesthesia. However, over the past twenty years, ketamine has received attention as a treatment for many neurological conditions including chronic pain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and anxiety.
Ketamine works differently from other antidepressants. Most antidepressants work on two chemical messengers in the brain: serotonin and norepinephrine. The effectiveness of these medications is limited due to the fact that serotonin and norepinephrine account for a very small percentage of the chemical messengers in the brain. In contrast, ketamine works on the glutamate system, which is the main chemical messaging system in the brain. A slow infusion of ketamine initiates a cascade of events that ultimately results in the rapid growth of neural connections. This increase in the quality and the quantity of neuronal connections are thought to relieve depression. Ketamine is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent which may be responsible for its effectiveness against depression, which is highly associated with chronic inflammation. Other additional factors may also be involved that have yet to be identified.
Traditional antidepressants can take as long as 2-3 weeks before patients start experiencing relief. With ketamine, individuals can start to experience relief within the first 24-36 hours. Ketamine is not a one-time treatment or cure for depression. Depression is a chronic disease and requires continuous treatment. It is recommended that individuals continue with their current antidepressant regimens and therapy. Many patients find that during the initial period of relief they are suddenly able to break free from negative patterns of thinking. During this period, patients should embrace a healthy lifestyle that supports mental health including diet, exercise and talking therapy.