Q. I received a ketamine infusion several months ago and it literally saved my life. My 30+ year depression was severe (unable to feel, no relationships, unable to work, extreme anxiety and fatigue, etc). I volunteered for a study at the National Institutes of Health for patients with extreme, treatment-resistant depression, where I was given ketamine.
The effect was instantaneous and miraculous. All symptoms were completely relieved within two hours. The relief lasted about two weeks. Most of my fellow patients at NIH experienced the same. There are many doctors now using ketamine in clinical practice for severe depression. I had no trouble finding one and have since been treated with ketamine for several months.
You cannot imagine the sensation of decades of suffering draining away rapidly. For the first time in my life (age 50) I am finally able to get out of bed in the morning, experience joy, socialize, work, date, etc. Ketamine doesn’t work for every patient, but the response rate is astonishingly high (65-80%). If you are reading this post while suffering long-term, extreme depression: please consider volunteering for a ketamine study or find yourself a doctor who employs it in their practice.
A. Your experience has just been confirmed by new research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (online, April 3, 2014). A small study from the UK demonstrated that infusions of ketamine produced dramatic responses in severely depressed patients. Like you, some of these individuals had been suffering for decades.
Unlilke traditional antidepressants, which can take weeks to kick in, ketamine sometimes produces noticeable results within a few hours. The lead investigator, Dr. Rupert McShane, reported to the BBC that “It really is dramatic for some people; it’s the sort of thing really that makes it worth doing psychiatry; it’s a really wonderful thing to see.”
Although some of the patients had long-lasting benefit, others relapsed. But keep in mind that ketamine is not given daily like typical antidpressants. This study involved three to six infusions over a period of three weeks. One wonders what would happen if the drug were administered orally on a regular basis or over a longer period of time.
Ketamine was originally approved for human use as an injectable general anesthetic in 1970. It is especially helpful when severe pain is involved, such as in burn patients or during emergency surgery. That’s because it is both an anesthetic and an analgesic, meaning that it provides significant pain relief while helping the patient remain unconscious. Because it opens airways, it is especially helpful for asthmatics or patients with COPD (chronic obstructive airway disease). Ketamine is also used by verterinarians for a wide variety of animal surgeries.
Caution about ketamine results in part because of its negative reputation as a club drug. The street name for ketamine is Special K. When taken orally, the drug produces a “dissociative” effect that some describe as detached or distorted. It is a shame that ketamine has been abused, since its antidepressant potential is so exciting. This may have delayed research into this promising treatment.
To learn more about ketamine in the treatment of severe depression, here is a link to an earlier post, “Old Drug Has New Tricks Against Depression.”
Let us know your experience with depression. If you have participated in a ketamine trial, we would love to hear your story. You may also find our Guide to Dealing with Depression of value.