Ketamine Is Different
Ketamine acts in hours, not days or weeks like traditional antidepressants. That is because ketamine works on a completely different part of the brain. Most other antidepressants act on the monoamine system of the brain, targeting serotonin or similar neurotransmitters.
Ketamine is different. It appears to target a completely separate system – the glutamate system.
In acting this way, ketamine stimulates a molecule called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which has been coined “Miracle-Gro for the brain” because it is associated with growth of new branches on nerve cells as well as more and better connections between the neurons. It makes nerves blossom like a tree in spring.
The History of Ketamine
Ketamine is a well-researched, dissociative anesthetic that was approved by the FDA in 1970. Since then, ketamine has been used extensively for pediatric and adult treatment in surgery, emergency departments, ambulances, trauma medicine, and more. The World Health Organization lists ketamine as one of the most essential medications due to its therapeutic effects and wide margin of safety.
Over the last two decades, Yale University and the National Institutes of Health identified additional benefits of ketamine for the treatment of mood disorders and chronic pain. The use of ketamine for depression is what some doctors are calling the “biggest breakthrough in mental health treatment in decades.”
Since ketamine works differently from other antidepressants, even if you have failed other meds or ECT, ketamine may still work for you.
Rat neuron before Ketamine
The pictures show a rat neuron. Above, before ketamine treatment, you see few dendritic spines – the connectors that nerve cells use to talk with other neurons. In depression, areas of the brain have been shown to lose these branches and connections. These physical changes cause nerves to lose the ability to communicate with each other and may be responsible for symptoms of depression.
New and fuller dendritic spines representing new connections in the brain after ketamine.
The neuron above shows new dendritic formations, or new neural growth, within just 2 hours of receiving ketamine. Ketamine’s effect on the human brain – how it interacts with the medial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in regard to chronic pain, for instance – is open to debate. We know that ketamine has been shown to reduce some of the symptoms associated with mental disorders like anxiety and depression as well as chronic pain.
A CT Scan of a Human Brain
After ketamine treatments, the depressed brain is almost identical to the non-depressed picture as new neural activity has awakened the depressed areas. The amygdala, the part of the brain that handles fear and emotion, may benefit from ketamine infusion therapy. That part of the brain is also vital to how we deal with mood disorders like anxiety and depression.