How Ketamine Works and Its Remarkable Effects

Our moods are shaped in no small part by chemicals in our brains called neurotransmitters: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. These chemicals send and regulate signals from one nerve cell to another. Modern antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, Cymbalta and Wellbutrin, plus even older medications such as tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), work by altering the levels of our neurotransmitters.

Ketamine is different. Ketamine infusion treatments work by blocking a newly discovered neurotransmitter, glutamate, right at the NMDA receptor. Researchers think that increasing the levels of glutamate in the brain increases the level of proteins required for cell formation and growth. This improves cell signaling, synaptic plasticity and circuitry. It also reverses neuronal brain cell death, and even increases neuronal growth.

In short, healthier nerve cells can now signal better, healthier moods. The discovery of how ketamine works and ketamine’s ability to improve depression has been described as “arguably the most important discovery [in psychiatric research] in half a century.”*

The Science of Ketamine Infusion Treatments

The science behind how ketamine works continues to evolve. Once a medication for general anesthesia in children and adults, ketamine has now been shown to lead to significant improvements of life-hindering symptoms in just a single dose. Patients suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, postpartum depression, fibromyalgia, post OCD and pain now have a new treatment option available.

Some highlights on ketamine infusion treatments compared to traditional antidepressants:

  • While traditional antidepressants have a delayed onset of action (typically several weeks at a minimum), ketamine works within hours.
  • Traditional antidepressants have a low rate of response – only about one-third of patients will respond to their first antidepressant, and about two-thirds will achieve an initial response only after trying several classes of antidepressants and augmentation strategies. Ketamine has been shown to be effective for many who don’t see success with these medications.
  • Finally, even if traditional antidepressants do work, all of them can cause side effects including weight gain, headaches, nausea and sexual dysfunction. Ketamine does not.

When will Symptoms Improve?

Many patients report feeling better during the infusion, if not within hours of its completion. Patients may not notice a drastic change in symptoms, but once an initial response has been verified, patients should expect to feel progressive improvement over the course of therapy.

How long do Results Last?

In many cases, patients will experience extended periods of improvement in mood and other symptoms, especially patients who have not been suffering from long-standing chronic depression. Some patients will need to return for “booster” infusions, or maintenance infusions, as frequently as every three to four months, depending on their unique symptoms and physiology.

If you live in the Dallas, Plano and Richardson, Texas area and would like to learn more about how ketamine works, or would like to determine if you are a candidate for ketamine infusion treatments, please contact the office of Texas Ketamine Specialists.

* Duman and Aghajanian, 2012.

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