Depression is a widespread mental health issue affecting millions globally. According to the World Health Organization, it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide. Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest characterize depression, impacting individuals regardless of age, gender, or background. Untreated depression can have severe consequences, including an increased risk of self-harm or suicide. Recognizing the gravity of this challenge is crucial. Ketamine, an alternative treatment, shows promising results in providing rapid relief and long-term improvements. Let’s explore how ketamine can offer hope to those battling depression.

Understanding Depression

Definition & Common Symptoms of Depression

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) defines depression as a mood disorder characterized by the presence of at least five specific symptoms over a two-week period. These symptoms include:

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in activities (anhedonia).
  3. Significant weight loss or gain, or changes in appetite.
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) nearly every day.
  5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation.
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy.
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, indecisiveness.
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts.

To meet the diagnostic criteria for depression, these symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms should not be attributable to the physiological effects of substances or another medical condition.

Prevalence and Impact of Depression on Individuals and Families

Depression has a staggering prevalence, impacting a substantial number of individuals and families worldwide. Globally, over 280 million people of all ages grapple with depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).1

In 2020, the NIH reported that 8.4% of all U.S. adults experienced at least one major depressive episode. Here are the numbers broken down a bit further.

  • About 10.5% of US adult females experienced at least one major depressive episode
  • About 6.2% of US adult males experienced at least one major depressive episode
  • About 17% of adults between ages 18-25 experienced a major depressive episode, making the prevalence highest in this age range
  • About 15.9% of adults who self-identified as two or more races experienced a major depressive episode, making the prevalence higher in this category than any single race alone

Of the 21 million adults who experienced one or more major depressive episodes in 2020, 14.8 million (6% of all adults) experienced major impairment from one of those episodes, and 66% of that 21 million received some sort of treatment for depression.2

These numbers underscore the widespread nature of this mental health condition and its profound effects on individuals and their families. Depression takes a heavy toll on individuals, causing persistent feelings of sadness, fatigue, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. It disrupts daily functioning, impairs concentration and decision-making, and can lead to sleep disturbances and appetite changes. Such challenges not only affect the individual directly but also reverberate through their familial relationships.

Conventional Depression Treatments and Their Limitations

Conventional treatments for depression typically involve a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT), aims to help individuals identify and address negative thought patterns, develop coping skills, and improve interpersonal relationships. Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are commonly prescribed to help regulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain. While these conventional approaches have proven effective for many individuals, they may take time to show noticeable improvements and can be associated with side effects. And while depression medication can be life-saving or life-changing for some, they aren’t as effective for others.

Ketamine: An Alternative Treatment


Introduction to Ketamine and Its History

Ketamine, originally developed as an anesthetic in the 1960s, has a fascinating history in medicine. Its unique properties quickly gained attention beyond its anesthetic applications. Ketamine’s dissociative and hallucinogenic effects led to its use in psychedelic research and as a recreational drug. However, in recent years, ketamine has emerged as a potential breakthrough treatment for depression and other mental health conditions.

In the 1990s, researchers began investigating ketamine’s antidepressant properties when patients receiving the drug for anesthesia reported improvements in their mood. Subsequent studies demonstrated that ketamine can rapidly alleviate depressive symptoms, even in individuals with treatment-resistant depression and/or suicidal ideation. This led to the development of ketamine infusion therapy, where controlled doses of ketamine are administered intravenously under medical supervision.

Mechanism of Action: How Ketamine Works in the Brain to Alleviate Depression Symptoms

The exact mechanism for ketamine and its impact on depression is still being studied. Ketamine works differently from traditional antidepressants by targeting the brain’s glutamate system, specifically the NMDA receptors. It triggers a cascade of neurochemical processes that promote synaptic plasticity, enhancing the brain’s ability to form new connections and restore neural pathways associated with mood regulation. Additionally, ketamine indirectly modulates other neurotransmitter systems, such as the release of serotonin and dopamine. These effects contribute to the overall antidepressant and mood-stabilizing properties of ketamine.

It’s important to note that while the precise mechanism of action of ketamine is still being studied, its ability to rapidly alleviate depressive symptoms suggests its unique impact on brain circuits involved in mood regulation.

Prescribing Ketamine Treatment for Depression: The Latest Research

A 2020 meta-analysis of ketamine in depression treatment found that ketamine had rapid and robust antidepressant effects in both treatment-resistant depression and major depressive disorder.3

While ketamine was originally developed as an anesthetic, its potential for treating depression has been a topic of research in recent years. The meta-analysis, which compiled data from multiple studies, found that ketamine produced significant improvements in depressive symptoms within hours of administration. This is a promising development, as traditional antidepressant medications can take weeks or even months to take effect.

The study also found that ketamine’s antidepressant effect was short-term, it suggests that ketamine could be used as an adjunctive therapy to prolong the duration of antidepressant effects. This means that ketamine could be used in combination with other medications or therapies to provide longer-lasting relief from depression.

Another study published in JAMA in September 2022 found that depressed patients receiving ketamine treatment were able to be given information and form more optimistic beliefs than depressed patients without ketamine treatment. This study suggests that ketamine-assisted healing may not affect mood but also influence beliefs and enhance the ability to become optimistic.4

In addition to its potential as a depression treatment, ketamine has also been studied for its effects on other mental health conditions such as anxiety and PTSD. While more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of ketamine, it is clear that this drug has the potential to be a game-changer in the field of mental health treatment. And it is available now through licensed medical providers as an option for clients who meet appropriate prescribing criteria.

Exploring the Benefits of Ketamine for Depression

Ketamine’s unique mechanism of action provides several benefits over conventional antidepressants. The most compelling benefit is its rapid onset of action, with some people reporting relief from symptoms in as little as a few hours after treatment.

Additionally, ketamine has been shown to be effective in treating treatment-resistant depression, a condition that affects a significant number of people who do not respond to traditional antidepressants. This is a significant breakthrough in the field of mental health, as many individuals with treatment-resistant depression have few options for treatment.

Moreover, ketamine has been found to be effective in treating depression in individuals with bipolar disorder, a condition that can be difficult to manage with traditional antidepressants. The use of ketamine in these individuals has been shown to improve their symptoms and overall quality of life.

Furthermore, ketamine has been shown to improve suicidal ideation, a common and dangerous symptom of depression, more quickly than traditional antidepressants. This is particularly important, as suicidal ideation can be a life-threatening symptom of depression.

It is also worth noting that ketamine may have fewer side effects than traditional antidepressants. This is because ketamine is administered in a controlled setting, under the supervision of a medical professional. Additionally, the dosage of ketamine used to treat depression is significantly lower than the dosage used for anesthesia.

Safety and Side Effects of Ketamine Treatment for Depression

According to an article by Harvard Health, “ketamine is generally considered safe, including for those who are experiencing suicidal ideation (thoughts or plans for suicide). The main side effects are dissociation, intoxication, sedation, high blood pressure, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting.” As with any medication, side effects vary from person to person.

Ketamine-treatment is also not right for everyone including (but NOT limited to):

  • Those with a history of substance misuse or addiction
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding people
  • People with a schizophrenic or psychosis history
  • People with uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Individuals with certain medical conditions who may be at higher risk for complications
  • Those taking certain medications which may interact poorly with ketamine
  • People with a known allergy or sensitivity to ketamine
  • People with dementia
  • Young people whose brains are not fully developed

Overall, ketamine is a promising treatment option for depression, but it is important to fully understand the potential risks and benefits before beginning treatment. Healthcare providers should closely monitor patients for side effects and work with them to manage any symptoms that may arise.

Steps to Take for Long-Term Management of Depression with Ketamine

Ketamine may help relieve symptoms of depression in the short-term, but it is not a cure for depression. To achieve long-term management of depression, people may need to adopt lifestyle changes, therapy, and other strategies while taking ketamine.

One vital step is to work closely with a qualified healthcare provider with experience in ketamine treatment for depression. Another crucial step is to create a support system of loved ones and mental health professionals to help manage the challenges of depression.

Accessing Quality Care When Using Ketamine for Depression

Ketamine treatment for depression is a relatively new and emerging therapy. Therefore, it is essential to work with a trusted and experienced healthcare provider who is knowledgeable in the most recent research and protocols for using ketamine for depression.

Choose a healthcare provider who is transparent about their approach to ketamine treatment and provides adequate information about the potential benefits and risks of the therapy. Ensure that the provider follows proper safety protocols and performs the treatment in a clinical setting.

The Bottom Line

Ketamine offers rapid relief from depression symptoms and long-term benefits for many people who have struggled to find relief from conventional antidepressants. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it is best to work closely with a qualified healthcare provider to determine if ketamine treatment is right for your unique needs and circumstances.

With proper guidance and care, ketamine treatment can provide hope and healing for people battling with depression and offer a path to a better quality of life.


  1. World Health Organization. (2023, March 31). Depression. Retrieved from
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Major Depression. Retrieved from
  3. Marcantoni, W. S., Akoumba, B. S., Wassef, M., Mayrand, J., Lai, H., Richard-Devantoy, S., & Beauchamp, S. (2020). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the efficacy of intravenous ketamine infusion for treatment resistant depression: January 2009 – January 2019. Journal of affective disorders277, 831–841.
  4. Bottemanne HMorlaas OClaret ASharot TFossati PSchmidt L. Evaluation of Early Ketamine Effects on Belief-Updating Biases in Patients With Treatment-Resistant Depression. JAMA Psychiatry. 2022;79(11):1124–1132. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.2996