Categorized as a “dissociative anesthetic”, ketamine has often been utilized for it’s tranquilizing effect by helping to prevent pain and discomfort. Despite use for pain and pre-surgery operations, however, ketamine is being increasingly used to treat major depressive disorder and depressive phases of bipolar disorder; Anne Stallings, a woman who has struggled with major depression most of her life and has found many benefits from ketamine, told CBS News, “It was like the fifth treatment in and I had come home from the grocery store and I was putting away the groceries and I was like, ‘Wow, this is how you don’t feel depressed.’”
Ketamine is becoming ever-more popular for depression due to its quick and long-lasting anti-depressant effects – studies show that the drug’s effects can take place in as little as 30 minutes. A 2015 review published in The Lancet states that ketamine is thought to block N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain, which interact with glutamate, an amino acid neurotransmitter (when this happens, calcium has been shown to flood inside cells, which can cause them to fire). This communication between the drug and chemicals in the brain could be the reason for the sought-after effects of the drug on major depression.
Scientific American notes that while much research is being done as to exactly how the drug’s chemicals interact with neurotransmitters in the brain, the current guess is related to LHb, which is part of the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for processing emotions, including those of pleasure and mood. If calcium floods cells in the brain which causes them to fire, LHb may have a role in stopping this “firing” action from taking place – ultimately putting a halt on reward system processing and, therefore, leading to the development of depression. If you have major depression or bipolar disorder with depression, should you be taking ketamine? Not exactly.
Work closely with your healthcare team to determine what works best for you. Ketamine shouldn’t be considered the first and only option, as there are many other medications that have been shown to be effective in treating depression. Ultimately, it comes down to your personal experience and what works best for you. In the meantime, stay updated with research as scientists seek to learn more about ketamine, it’s effects on the brain, and ultimately it’s role in treating depression.
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