Ketamine, an anesthetic agent, has been used in hospitals for decades to treat severe pain, migraine headaches, chronic pain, anxiety, and even some mild traumatic brain injury victims (1). It is also widely known under the names anesthesia and tranquility. Recently, however, Ketamine has gained notoriety as a potential treatment for treating anxiety disorders. For many, this new breakthrough treatment represents an incredible opportunity to better manage their painful mental health issues. In an article published in the June 6th edition of the New York Times Magazine, Dr. William Pelham of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and professor at the University of Buffalo stated:
“This drug allows us to take care of patients who cannot achieve any type of relief from their symptoms by other means. By blocking the action of glutamate at the synapse, ketamine can mimic the calming effect that patients get from psychotherapy. When given at the onset of a seizure, it can reduce the intensity of the episode.”
New Medical Solutions With Ketamine.
Ketamine is already being used off-label to treat patients suffering with Parkinson’s disease, depression, and general anxiety disorders (2). But the real reason to consider this relatively new medical solution is that ketamine mimics some aspects of the brain’s natural antidepressant, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). People suffering from depression or chronic pain are often unaware that the key to relieving these symptoms is to increase the levels of GABA in the brain. In fact, GABA is an important neurotransmitter in the human brain responsible for regulating both our moods and the strength of our muscles. Because GABA is so vital to our well-being, it makes sense that increasing its level in the brain would provide a tremendous amount of relief from symptoms like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia (3).
So why is ketamine being used for treating depression?
The two major reasons are that ketamine acts at the synapse, and it also acts at the neuromuscular level to modulate GABA levels. Because it closely mimics glutamate, which is found at the synapse, ketamine has been shown in clinical trials to reduce both the frequency and the severity of epileptic seizures in patients who suffer from epilepsy. And because it can be administered in such great amounts, ketamine has also been used off-label to treat other conditions, including sleep apnea, chemotherapy, and even multiple sclerosis (4).
Ketamine’s Solution to High Blood Pressure
Like many drugs that act on the glutamate system, ketamine is often used in the treatment of patients with high blood pressure. It was first used in patients who had excessive fluid retention due to congestive heart failure, and doctors were thrilled with the results. The high blood pressure patients’ kidneys showed a significant reduction in glutamic acid accumulation when ketamine was added to the treatment regime, and researchers were able to conclude that the addition of ketamine was very successful in reducing blood pressure. A recent study even suggested that it might even be used as an alternative therapy for patients diagnosed with hypertension due to lack of activity in the sympathetic nervous system.
In fact, one of the most common questions asked is how to lower blood pressure with ketamine; fortunately, it does not require any medication to be taken and is usually given intravenously. The infusion is done under medical supervision and there is usually no more than a few injections required per day.
Ketamine for Psychiatric Disorders.
Ketamine is also being studied for use in psychiatric disorders. One such disorder is major depression; in fact, the most recent study into its effect on major depression found that it was just as effective at treating the disease as tricyclic antidepressants (TCA), sertraline (Zoloft), and fluoxetine (Prozac). One of the biggest reasons why ketamine is ideal for use in conjunction with other psychotropic drugs is that it produces minimal side effects, if any, in patients taking it.
Some people ask what the possible adverse effects are of ketamine for some types of disorders, and the simple answer is none. Ketamine has been used very successfully for years in the treatment of depression, dementia, and other disorders of the central nervous system; there are no known side effects at all in this regard. The one thing that might be of concern is if you suffer from kidney disease or if your heart rhythm is irregular, but ketamine has no serious side effects when these problems are addressed by your doctor.
Another group of patients that ketamine treatment could be particularly beneficial is that of patients suffering from anxiety disorders. Research into ketamine’s effect on anxiety disorders, however, has been largely in the area of teaching health care professionals about the benefits it provides for patients with chronic, severe, disabling anxiety disorders. If your doctor diagnoses you as having one of these conditions, he may recommend that you seek out the use of ketamine for your condition rather than taking a more traditional drug for it. Whatever the case, ketamine is certainly worth looking into if your psychiatrist considers it appropriate for your needs.