The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Ketamine Really Battle Life-Long Depression?

Ketamine infusions seem promising against life-long depression. Will the new nasal spray Spravato reverse treatment-resistant depression too?

People with depression have a really tough time. Not only does the condition suck all of the joy out of life, the medications used to treat it have some potentially serious side effects. Moreover, antidepressants don’t work for everyone. They can also take up to six weeks to exert a therapeutic effect. What can an individual suffering from life-long depression do? One reader reports unexpected success with an old drug.

Does Ketamine Reverse Life-Long Depression?

Q. I just started getting ketamine IV infusions two weeks ago, after I heard about the Spravato nasal spray. After a few days I’m a person again!

I haven’t really laughed or enjoyed anything at all for more than 20 years. That’s my entire adult life. I just got a life gifted back to me and all I feel now is hope and gratitude. Nothing has been even close to how ketamine has transformed me.

I’ve been on more than a dozen antidepressants over that time, prescribed by half a dozen psychiatrists. Some things helped, but nothing like this. This isn’t a placebo. No way.

I’ve suffered life-long depression and have grappled with suicide for years. That’s all gone now. This medication saved my life. It should be accessible to everyone that needs it. All I can think now is this: It’s sure exciting to be alive!

The Research on Ketamine and Esketamine:

A. Ketamine is a very old medication that has been used in anesthesia. Over the last several years, psychiatrists have been reporting that ketamine infusions can act quickly to alleviate treatment-resistant depression (American Journal of Psychiatry, March 29, 2019; Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, Nov. 27, 2018). 

Such pilot studies probably touched off the research leading to the esketamine (Spravato) nasal spray that the FDA recently approved for hard-to-treat depression. We are delighted that you have achieved such good relief from your life-long depression.

You can learn much more about ketamine at these links:

Could Suicide Be Prevented with Better Access to Ketamine?

Listen to our free podcast with a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health:

Show 983: Intriguing Approaches to Overcoming Depression

Get an insiders view of ketamine from the original researcher and my mentor, Dr. Edward Domino:

Surprising Ketamine Side Effects and Anti-Suicide Benefits

There’s a new drug in town. It is a chemical cousin of ketamine, esketamine. You can learn about Spravato at this link:

High Cost of Spravato (Esketamine) For Depression!

Share y0ur own experience with treating depression in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Dealing with Depression
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Citations
  • Phillips JL et al, "Single, repeated, and maintenance ketamine infusions for treatment-resistant depression: A randomized controlled trial." American Journal of Psychiatry, March 29, 2019. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18070834
  • Farber NB, "NMDA antagonists for treatment-resistant depression." Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, online Nov. 27, 2018. DOI: 10.1007/164_2018_165
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My husband just started this drug and will be having his second dose tomorrow. We didn’t notice any improvement after the first one and are wondering if it took several times to notice a difference for other people. Supposed to have two doses per week for a month and then taper to one dose a week. Is this common? In reading above, it appears some people have noticible success with one dose.

Before awakening from anesthesia after spinal surgery, I was administered Ketamine. I had very unpleasant hallucinations until it wore off. I was then severely depressed to the point of crying for little reason—for two-months.

James…from Colorado
Your post saying no one should be taking drugs until they correct their lifestyle or eating habits etc.
I just want to say: it’s not that easy, and I am talking from the experience of being severely depressed for many many years. When a person is depressed life has no meaning, and you can’t even drag yourself out of bed each day. So how do you think a person who is depressed and not wanting to contribute to their own daily life, is going to say..hey let’s look at my diet, and change a few things and let’s get exercising !!

That won’t happen until they get some form of help, and that usually is from drugs to stabilize the mood and get the endorphins running to their happy place. Then, and only then, will that depressed person be in the right mind-set to even look at these things. I have a feeling you have never experienced depression yourself to make a comment like that and prescribe your is the way to fix things.

I am not doubting what you say, BUT intervention of medications is the first step. But it’s not the last step nor is it your only choice for help. Once I went on my medications, and I got to my happy place, only then was I able to bounce of bed, go for my morning run and change my diet. But before then, as any depressed person would know, before the medication it was like, “Screw everyone! Just leave me alone!”

Medications for any disease are not the only choice we have. I agree that diet and exercise do play a big part of any remedy, but when it comes to depression, if you’re not on medication/s to get the ball rolling that person may commit suicide while they are waiting to change their diet. And when you’re depressed you are not the strongest version of yourself.

My depression and anxiety started when I was a child and escalated out of control after I entered into a domestic violence marriage. At the time my then husband did not display any form of violent tendencies before we married. It only came about after he injured himself and could no longer work. I tried many different drugs, and it took some YEARS to find the right one, because, as we all know, when you start a new drug you have to be patient and wait for it to get into your system which can take months. Then you must take that drug for said months to see if it is working. After much trial and error my specialist found the right one but also it came with some small side effect. But without this medication I would not be here today. I think any trial/s that help people with depression issues is a win win.

James in colorado, here’s my experience: I have had depression since as far back as I can remember. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. At ten I wanted to kill myself. I’m 50 so people didn’t understand childhood depression. I lived on a farm so I got plenty of exercise, ate lots of vegetables, little meat, and my grandmother was an herbalist. Don’t discount genetics. And the regime you describe may not be covered by insurance and is quite costly. Believe me, I have done them. It feels like you are trying to shame others.

I have a young acquaintance who has struggled with mental illness for years, no medication has worked until recently when she was prescribed the nasal spray. She has had outstanding results on the new medication, and is now able to hold down a job, and has few if any side effects. The new medication has given her a bright, new life.

Daily sunshine or if in high latitudes or during the winter, vitamin D3 supplements. I have seen it work quickly and well for half a dozen people, some who had been manic depressive, some long term depressed. Indoor people are much more liable to depression than outdoor people. Winter sees more depression than summer (winter blues).

I think that no person should take any drug for depression until they have corrected their diet for essential oils, all vitamins, all minerals, fiber, water and probiotics as well as adding some form of regular exercise and sleep therapy

My husband has struggled with serious depress for close to 20 years. While conventional antidepressants and psychotherapy allows him to live a relatively normal life, he has encountered periods when these modality are ineffective.
About 5 years ago when the options were between electroconvulsant therapy or a trial of ketamine compounded locally, my husband and his psychiatrist decided to try ketamine. He has used it as a “rescue” drug since. He has used it 5-6 times throughout those years. He experiences relief for many months before needing another dose. Luckily he has not encountered any side effects and he has not needed any hospitalizations, ECT, or had any suicide attempts since.

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