Struggling with chronic pain and mood disorders for long periods can make things seem hopeless. Despite your best efforts, standard coping techniques have had little to no effect. Perhaps dieting or lifestyle changes worked for a little while, but then you tried a fad therapy and ended back at square one. There may be another solution: ketamine therapy.
What Is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a powerful medicine that was first used as an anesthetic. Its origins date back to the early 1960s, and it gained prominence treating wounded U.S. combat troops fighting in Vietnam. Since that time, scientists have discovered that it has additional medicinal value. Besides its use for anesthesia, the medicine is a fast-acting salve for symptoms of mood disorders like depression and chronic pain conditions, which don’t respond well to other treatments or therapy.
Ketamine & The Brain
While most antidepressants target one of the “monoamine” neurotransmitters, like serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine, ketamine has in its crosshair glutamate, your brain’s most common excitatory chemical messenger. While controlling the brain’s means to handle cognitive ideas, emotions, and neuroplasticity, glutamate encourages and strengthens synaptic networks. It also has a critical role in overall cognition – how you learn, remember, and react to experiences. Ketamine is believed to support and repair damaged or weakened neurotransmitters like glutamate.
Conditions Treatable With Ketamine
Ketamine has been used since the 1960s to treat the symptoms of many pain and mental health conditions, which for some people, become chronic conditions. Chronic disease fails to respond to two or more treatment options. Ketamine is used to treat several conditions:
- Anxiety symptoms like fear, avoidance, sleep issues, and eating problems.
- Bipolar disorder, which features emotional highs and lows.
- Depression (major depressive disorder). Ketamine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019 to treat depression.
- Drug and alcohol addiction.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Postpartum depression, a condition that can affect new mothers, spouses, other children, and extended family members.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Trauma from sexual abuse
- Ketamine may also work to soothe suicidal thoughts.
- Treatment-resistant depression
- Breakthrough non-cancer pain
- Cancer pain
- Central neuropathic pain, a condition that results from any injury to the central nervous system
- Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy
- Chronic pain, or “pain that is ongoing and usually lasts longer than six months.” This type of pain can continue even after the injury or illness that caused it has healed or gone away. Pain signals remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months, or years.”
- Chronic sickle cell pain
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- Lyme disease
- Neuropathic pain
- New daily persistent headaches
- Painful limb ischemia
- Phantom limb pain
- Post-mastectomy pain syndrome
- Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
- Trigeminal neuropathic pain
More ketamine information is available online.
Should You Try Ketamine Therapy?
If you suffer from a diagnosed mental illness or chronic pain condition that hasn’t responded to other therapy, ask your healthcare provider if ketamine therapy is the best treatment for you. The answer will depend on several factors, including overall mental and physical well-being, history of mental illness, existing illnesses, medicines you already take, family history, and many other considerations.
The Benefits of Ketamine
- Ketamine may strengthen and rebalance neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for how we perceive pain.
- It may also lower inflammation in the brain and boost stress resilience.
- Ketamine may help control the brain’s “disappointment center” or the lateral habenula, which processes difficult emotions and feelings.
- Ketamine acts slowly when dispensed in lower quantities through infusion therapy.
- It works very quickly once administered.
- Ketamine has been approved to treat depression and works particularly well with “treatment-resistant depression.”
Are There Side Effects?
The most widespread side effects of ketamine, when used medicinally, are confusion, double vision, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, unease, and restlessness. If used without the care of a medical professional, the medicine, like many others, presents possible risks which you should be aware of:
- Issues with attention, learning, and memory over the short term. You may also enter dreamlike states, hallucinate, become sleepy or confused, have problems with memory, experience higher blood pressure, become unconscious, or have alarmingly slowed breathing.
- You could experience ulcers and pain in your bladder, kidney troubles, stomach pain, depression, and memory issues in the long term.
If you’re suffering long-term symptoms from a mental illness or chronic pain condition and haven’t gotten better with certain medicine or therapy, ask your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of ketamine infusion therapy. It may stabilize your moods and lessen pain but shouldn’t be taken without approval from your doctor.