Ketamine and how it Effects the Brain and Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Each day, millions of Americans face the reality of battling everyday life with a mental illness. This month is about putting an end to the stigma, providing support and resources, and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.

Ketamine Infusion Therapy is now being used to treat mental health conditions such as depression, suicidality, chronic pain, migraines, OCD, and PTSD symptoms. For many, this breakthrough treatment represents a powerful opportunity to manage their mental health challenges and give them a second chance at life. Those familiar with ketamine, however, are also aware of its reputation as a party drug, its dissociative characteristics, including “out-of-body” experiences, and its addictive qualities. When administered medically, ketamine can be a completely new experience.

Here at NeuroMedici, we are providing our community with a thorough understanding of available treatments and how they work.

So you might ask yourself-how has Ketamine turned from a party drug to a highly effective treatment for serious mental health conditions? Let's break it down for you.

From Party Drug to Effective Treatment for Mental Health:

As Yale psychologists and psychiatrists explored depression, studies revealed that ketamine triggered the brain to produce glutamate, which stimulates new neural connections.

“This is a game-changer,” says John Krystal, MD, chief psychiatrist at Yale Medicine and one of the pioneers of ketamine research in the country. The drug works differently than those used previously, he notes, calling ketamine “the anti-medication” medication. “With most medications, like valium, the anti-anxiety effect you get only lasts when it is in your system. When the valium goes away, you can get rebound anxiety. When you take ketamine, it triggers reactions in your cortex that enable brain connections to regrow. It’s the reaction to ketamine, not the presence of ketamine in the body that constitutes its effects,” he says.

Using intravenous doses of ketamine in controlled studies, they observed the results on patients with severe depression whose conditions had not improved with standard antidepressants. Studies kept proving significant results, more than 50% of the participants reported a decrease in their depression symptoms just 24 hours after ketamine treatment.

On March 5, 2019, after nearly 20 years of research, the FDA approved Spravato (esketamine) nasal spray for adults suffering from treatment-resistant depression.

Ketamine is different from traditional antidepressants because they only target one of the “monoamine” neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine. While ketamine targets glutamate, the brain’s most common chemical messenger. When taken, ketamine regulates the brain’s ability to process cognitive thoughts, emotions, and neuroplasticity. Glutamate promotes and strengthens synaptic connections, it also plays a key part in how an individual learns, remembers, and responds to experiences.

The Works of Intravenous Ketamine on the Brain:

Ketamine first works by activating the brain’s opiate receptors which can subside symptoms of depression. This is during the infusion, patients generally feel relaxed, free from pain, and in a sedated like-feeling. After the infusion, glutamate receptors are continuously increased, restoring normal levels of glutamate. After the levels are stabilized, the brain’s reaction to ketamine causes new neural receptors to grow which may “reset” the depressed brain. This allows you to create new thinking patterns, habits, and cognition.

So how long does this take?!

For patients using ketamine infusion therapy for mental health conditions, we typically recommend a series of six infusions over the course of two weeks. Patients report feeling better just after one infusion. After their treatment plan is completed, patients feel symptom-free for up to three months. If they start to feel their symptoms creep back, we recommend one booster infusion. After that, patients will go even longer feeling symptom-free.

Ketamine Infusion therapy has significantly improved the wellbeing of many people and stands as a new, innovative form of treatment. If you or a loved one has been searching for alternative treatments for mental health conditions and would like more information, call us at (773) 227-2687 or fill out a contact form here.

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