How Does Ketamine Treat Depression?

how does ketamine treat depression

Depression is a serious mental health disorder that can have serious consequences for you, including boosting your risk of suicide. Its causes are still being researched, but studies have shown that ketamine, once used only for anesthesia, has proven effective in treating its symptoms.


Ketamine was created in the early 1960s for human use as a pre- and post-operative anesthetic, earning its keep treating injured U.S. combat soldiers during fighting in Vietnam. A powerful medicine, ketamine also is used to sedate animals for the same reason it’s used on humans – to prepare for a medical procedure or numb the effects of pain. It can calm an irate person or animal, working to soothe symptoms of anger, hostility, and sadness.


  • Sadness, tearfulness, hopelessness.
  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration.
  • Loss of interest in favorite hobbies or sexual intimacy.
  • Problems sleeping, too much or too little.
  • Fatigue and low energy.
  • Eating problems leading to sudden weight gain or loss.
  • Anxiety, tension, or restlessness.
  • Slowed speech, thinking, or body movements.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, preoccupation with self-blame.
  • Problems thinking, concentrating, decision-making, memory.
  • Preoccupation with death, suicide attempts, or suicide.
  • Mysterious physical problems, like back pain or headaches


There are many causes for depression, each one worthy of continuing research.

  • People with depression seem to have physical changes in the brain. The meaning of these changes is still undefined but could lead to causes.
  • Research shows that changes in the function and effect of neurotransmitters and their interaction with neurocircuits related to preserving mood stability could play a big role in depression and treatment.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • It was inherited from a blood relative.


John Krystal, MD, chief psychiatrist at Yale Medicine and a pioneer of ketamine research in the United States, called the medicine’s 2019 approval by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to treat ketamine a “game-changer.”

“When you take ketamine, it triggers reactions in your cortex that enable brain connections to regrow. It’s the reaction to ketamine, not the presence of ketamine in the body that constitutes its effects,” he said.

Ketamine activates glutamate production, prompting the construction of new neural connections. This boosts adaptability, allowing the brain to create new pathways and foster positive thoughts and behaviors in patients.  


Depression affects almost 300 million people globally, per the World Health Organization. A little closer to home, the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health says about 17 million adults have depression, with slightly more than three million adolescents aged 12 to 17-years old. The illness affects more women than men.


As is the case with mental disorders and chronic pain, there’s no “magic bullet” when it comes to fighting symptoms of depression. Once you’re diagnosed, based on criteria in the DSM-5, you’ll likely need to undergo treatment – psychotherapy, medicine, or a combination – for nine months, with no recurrence of symptoms, before your doctor will say you’ve overcome the condition.

But let’s say you don’t like doctors or medicine, what then? Piedmont Healthcare outlined 10 ways to fight depression naturally.

  • Stay away from refined sugar and carbs, which causes blood sugars to fluctuate and may lead to anxiety and fatigue.
  • Make fish, nuts, seeds part of your diet.
  • Eat more vegetables and supplements rich in vitamins B6, B12, folic acid, and iron.
  • Try herbal supplements.
  • Banish alcohol and caffeine.
  • Enjoy a sunny day.
  • Listen to music.
  • Consider pet therapy.

Some of these may work, often through trial and error.


If you think you’re depressed and can’t shake it, it might be time to see a doctor or therapist for a diagnosis. Diagnosing a mental illness like depression involves a physical exam, mental evaluation, and comparing the results to criteria in the DSM-5. The goal is to discover the cause.


Getting treated for depression often depends on several factors, including age, gender, physical health, the current state of mental health, and your and your family’s history of mental illness. Once you’ve been diagnosed, a doctor or mental healthcare provider could recommend therapy, hospitalization, or medicine. One promising treatment is ketamine. The medicine is a powerful sedative and may strengthen neurotransmitters in the brain critical for pain response.


Depression isn’t a life sentence and doesn’t have to control your life. By recognizing the symptoms and realizing something’s wrong, you’re on the road to getting better. Ask a doctor or therapist about treatment, which may include ketamine for depression. It’s a medicine that may control symptoms of mental illness.

An innovative new treatment option, ketamine started as a fast-acting anesthetic and pain reliever. Research in the last two decades has shown that ketamine is a powerful new tool for the treatment of mood disorders or pain conditions.

Ketamine works to stimulate the growth and regrowth of neurotransmitters in the brain, essentially rewriting the parts of the brain causing distress. Up to 70% of patients may be able to find relief from the symptoms of depression after a series of IV ketamine infusions.


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