Ketamine for Depression?

June 1, 2018

Ketamine for Depression?

Most people know ketamine as an animal tranquilizer that’s often used as a party drug. It causes a dissociative euphoria known as a ‘k-hole’ that is short enough that you can still find your way home at the end of the night. Lately, ketamine is being put to another use: depression treatment of last resort.

Ketamine is thought to work differently from other types of depression medication. Most depression medications change the balance of neurotransmitters. SSRIs, for example, are the most common antidepressant drug and they increase the concentration of serotonin in your brain. Ketamine is thought to affect several types of receptors in the brain related to depression. One of these receptors is called an NMDA receptor and it interacts with the neurotransmitter glutamate. If you are familiar with alcohol withdrawal, you may recall that glutamate is the  excitatory neurotransmitter that is primarily responsible for the irritability you feel when you stop drinking. Ketamine is thought to block the NMDA receptor as well as some opioid receptors.

Like SSRIs, the exact mechanism by which ketamine relieves depression is not completely understood. But what excites researchers is that unlike SSRIs and other depression drugs that are currently available, ketamine continues to work long after it has left the patient’s system. It is not yet clear whether the out-of-body effect of ketamine is a necessary component for treatment. Some drug companies are currently trying to develop drugs based on ketamine but without ketamine’s dissociative effects.

Although ketamine is a promising new treatment for depression, it is not yet widely available. Each treatment currently costs between $400 and $800. Most people require at least two treatments a week for several months, or even years, and insurance doesn’t typically cover it. Beyond that, there are few places to get it. Still, if you have major depression and nothing else has worked, it may be worth asking your doctor about or even traveling somewhere for treatment.

Also, it’s not a great idea to try to self-medicate. Clinics use carefully controlled doses that minimize negative experiences and reduce the risk of bladder damage and other negative side effects. Also, medication works best when accompanied by therapy.  

Although ketamine has a way to go before it becomes commonly available, it’s good news for anyone struggling with depression. Since many people with depression struggle with addiction as well, ketamine may, ironically, eventually become a tool to help people recover.



Smarmore Castle Private Clinic in County Louth, near Dublin was founded in 1988 as a residential rehabilitation hospital treating people suffering from drug and alcohol purposes. Smarmore Castle believes in helping patients lead a life of abstinence through 12 Step programs, detox and medical treatment, psychotherapy, and complementary therapies. For more information, please call 041-986-5080. For those who live out of the country, the international number is 00353-41-986-5080.

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