What I Learned About Ketamine and Depression
Trigger Warning – Meds
Note that I’m not a doctor or a pharmacist or any kind of medical personnel. Do not consider this post to be advice on what you should do. If the subject interests you, ask a licensed physician for more information.
What did I know about ketamine before I started doing some research?
I knew that as a street and “club” drug it was known as “Special K.”
Then I heard that it was being used for treatment-resistant depression. Here’s what I found.
First, you can’t just go down to Brown Street and buy a few pills. That’s illegal. And what you get may include other substances that you didn’t intend to take.
So, you need a prescription for it. Once you get that prescription, usually after a consult with a psychiatrist, you need to find a treatment center that will administer the drug. Clinic operators may be anesthesiologists, as ketamine is primarily used as an anesthetic.
The treatment is delivered via IV or injections. No simple pills to take. It’s a course of treatments, each lasting 45 minutes to an hour, with a rest of an hour afterward. The treatment may be delivered for as many as six doses over the course of 12 days. (There may also be a nasal spray option, but the IV version seems more typical.)
You have to have someone who can drive you. The possible side effects include confusion and blurry vision. You can’t drive for 24 hours after the treatment, which basically means you can’t drive for two weeks, since the treatments are roughly every other day.
They don’t know how it works. I don’t find this surprising, since every time I’ve asked my psychiatrist how a medication works, I’ve been told, “They don’t really know, blah blah blah, neurotransmitters, blah blah blah, serotonin, blah blah blah.”
It’s expensive. The initial treatment may cost $500–$1,000, and a full course of treatments may cost as much as $3,800, which insurance won’t cover. These are estimated costs, based on treatment in various regions of the country. (The wholesale cost is approximately $.32 per dose, by the way.)
The results don’t last. They give relief for as little as a few hours to as much as nine months, after which a $600 booster shot is required.
You may still need regular antidepressants and psychotherapy. Ketamine may get you “over the hump” until your regular antidepressant kicks in, but is not a stand-alone treatment.
There are side effects. Confusion, hallucinations, and high blood pressure are among them, along with something called “lucid daydreaming.”
More research is needed. Duh.
The FDA has also approved trials of MDMA (Ecstasy) for treating PTSD. It is also being researched for effects on OCD, depression, and other conditions.
So, assuming that I could afford it, would I try ketamine? There’s not one easy answer to that.
Back in the days when my depression was drug-resistant, when I had spent years trying different combinations of psychotropics, when I was considering electroshock, I might well have seen ketamine as something to consider before I took that step. It should be noted that, at the time, my psychiatrist did not recommend or even mention it, so it might not have been appropriate for me whether I wanted to try it or not. And anyway, a combination of meds and therapy finally kicked in and made the subject moot.
Nowadays, I would not try ketamine (or MDMA, for that matter). My bipolar depression has moved from drug-resistant to drug-alleviated, at least for the most part. And that “most part” is enough for me. I have no need to be driven 45 minutes to the nearest clinic or to try to find a psychiatrist and anesthesiologist willing to go off-label. I am satisfied as I am.
As always, Your Mileage May Vary.