How Ketamine Affects Your Brain

Ketamine is trending as a promising new treatment for anxiety and depression. Here's how ketamine affects the chemistry of the brain.

friends having fun on beach at sunset integrating ketamine treatments

Ketamine is trending as a promising treatment for mental health and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

To understand how ketamine treatment works, let's first understand ketamine.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is an anesthetic that was introduced into clinical practice in the 1960s. Although initially developed as an anesthetic, over the past several decades ketamine has been revealed to have rapid, profound, and sustainable antidepressant effects.

The antidepressant effect is often seen within 24 hours of treatment, and persists days or weeks after treatment.

As a result, now doctors prescribe ketamine “off-label,” for people with treatment-resistant depression. Off-Label means it’s prescribed for an alternative condition than originally approved; one in five prescriptions written today are for off-label use.

Neurobiological Effects of Ketamine

Early studies demonstrated that typical antidepressants decrease N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDA) function in the brain which was proven to contribute to an antidepressant response. Ketamine is an NMDA receptor blocker. Hence, after a single dose of ketamine patients started reporting improvement of depressive symptoms within a matter of hours.

Through blocking NMDA receptors, ketamine induces glutamate neurotransmission, activating a cascade of pathways within the brain that increase the formation of synapses between neurons, induce the proliferation and maturation of dendritic spines, and strengthen the connections between certain neural pathways within 24 hours of treatment.

In the last decade multiple clinical studies were conducted confirming the rapid antidepressant effect of ketamine.

Safety of Ketamine

Ketamine is considered to be a relatively safe drug that is approved by the FDA. Due to the survey that was conducted by University of California San Diego and University of Southern California, to investigate the safety of repeated use of ketamine for depression, only 0.7% of patients experienced adverse effects that required discontinuation of ketamine.

Psychological distress during the treatment was the most frequent cause. Other adverse events were extremely rare (such as bladder dysfunction (0.1%), cognitive decline (0.03%) and psychotic symptoms (0.03%)).

Ketamine is known to increase blood pressure and heart rate; however, a study from 2018 published in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that low-dose ketamine (meaning sub-anesthetic dose) used for the treatment of refractory depression caused only a very small average increase in blood pressure.

Ketamine Treatment for Anxiety and Depression

In the same time frame that ketamine enhances synaptic connectivity, it also enhances synaptic plasticity, or the ability for neurons to change neural circuit function which impacts the ability to modify thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

There's preliminary cause to believe that enhanced synaptic plasticity paired with other psychotherapies can impact the longevity of ketamine’s antidepressant effects on the brain.

Pairing ketamine with other self-healing modalities, like sound healing and meditation, could allow for sustained benefits and synergistic effects.

Since ketamine plays a role in neuron plasticity and psychotherapy can be used to repair one’s belief system, there’s a unique opportunity for someone suffering from anxiety or depression to implement these practices as part of their ketamine treatment to create lasting effects.

Ready to discover a new way to heal your anxiety?

Check your eligibility to see if ketamine treatment is right for you.

External References

Scientific Articles and Clinical Trials

Ketamine and rapid-acting antidepressants: a new era in the battle against depression and suicide

Ketamine: A Paradigm Shift for Depression Research and Treatment

Antidepressant efficacy of ketamine in treatment-resistant major depression: a two-site, randomized controlled trial

Small-Dose Ketamine Improves the Postoperative State of Depressed Patients

A Randomized Trial of an N-methyl-d-aspartate Antagonist in Treatment-Resistant Major Depression

Ketamine and Beyond: Investigations into the Potential of Glutamatergic Agents to Treat Depression

Ketamine: 50 Years of Modulating the Mind

Ketamine for Social Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Crossover Trial

Ketamine enhances structural plasticity in human dopaminergic neurons: possible relevance for treatment-resistant depression

Safety of Repeated Administration of Parenteral Ketamine for Depression

Ketamine in the News

Ketamine: A Promising Novel Therapy for Anxiety and PTSD
Ketamine was originally approved by the FDA as an anesthetic, but is increasingly being used to treat mood disorders such as treatment-resistant depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD.
Researchers Are Closer to Explaining How Ketamine Treats Depression
A recent study sheds light on why ketamine may trigger antidepressant effects.
Mayo Clinic Minute: How esketamine can help severe depression - Mayo Clinic News Network
Millions of people struggle with clinical depression. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a medication to help those suffering with this serious mental health issue. Unlike other antidepressants, Dr. Jennifer Vande Voort, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, says it can work very quickly to re…
Ketamine monotherapy reduces suicidal ideation in adults with depression
In adults with treatment-resistant depression, ketamine monotherapy significantly reduced suicidal ideation compared with adjunctive ketamine, according to a retrospective study in Journal of Psychiatric Research.