Why Ketamine is Winning in the Fight against SSRIs in Treating Depression

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There’s something happening in mental health. After years of relying on familiar treatments for various mental health conditions, advancements are being made, often unbeknownst to the public, so it’s not surprising that this may be the first time you’re hearing about the use of ketamine therapy to treat depression.

What is Ketamine?

If you’re familiar with ketamine, words like “horse tranquilizer”, “K-hole”, and “illegal street drug” are coming to mind—this is OK and to be expected. Very few people know the origin of ketamine as a life-saving medication developed for starting and maintaining anesthesia during surgery of traumatic injuries. This post, however, does not address the social confusion and miseducation surrounding ketamine. Rather, it’s a small dive into ketamine’s breakthrough effectiveness to alleviate, both in quality and in swiftness, the most stubborn cases of depression in ways that other treatments often cannot. Let’s compare ketamine to SSRIs.

What do SSRIs do?

SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and similar medications target specific neurotransmitters in the brain in hopes of alleviating depression and anxiety disorders. If you’re unfamiliar with SSRIs, think Prozac and Zoloft, which target the neurotransmitter serotonin. These medications continue to be the gold standard in psychiatry, deriving from an age when we believed the target of depression to be serotonin. What we’ve found is that not all people with low serotonin have depression, and not all people with depression respond to SSRIs. In fact, over 1/3 of patients taking an SSRI receive no benefit at all, while many others receive partial benefit, leaving a patient to play the medication merry-go-round in hopes of finding a similar drug that may work.

What does Ketamine do?

Ketamine, which acts primarily on the neurotransmitter glutamate (the most abundant neurotransmitter in the human brain), is mostly being used to treat patients who have failed on multiple SSRIs. Essentially, we’re treating the 1/3 of non-responders, desperate for relief and on the brink of self-harm. With ketamine, we’re seeing upwards of a 70% response rate within this smaller, treatment resistant population. We’re also seeing virtually no side effects between treatments, which in comparison to SSRIs is a welcomed shift in managing depression day-to-day. What’s most impressive, though, is the speed in which ketamine acts. In comparison to SSRIs, which can take weeks or months to begin working, we’re seeing patients relieved of depression in a matter of days.

In the beginning of my post, I mentioned something happening in mental health. This something is akin to a movement. Scientists and doctors alike, dissatisfied with the medical mysteries surrounding mental health, are no longer accepting that what we were doing for so many years is the best we can do. We’re working towards curing depression and other mental illnesses. For this to occur, we’re breaking the mold and ushering in a new era of treatment, often times in the face of stigma and social barriers.

In future posts, I hope to share more about ketamine infusion therapy, including how it compares to other treatments, why it works, and what the future holds for mental health beyond ketamine. If you’re interested in more information on ketamine therapy now, visit our website at ktcpartnership.com or Google search for independent sources. And if you’re in the midst of fighting the darkness, do not give up hope (even if you’re currently unable to access the feeling of hope). Continue to research, look into new treatments, and do not accept that failure with one type of treatment represents the end of your journey towards wellness.

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Steven Levine, MD
Founder of Ketamine Treatment Centers
ktcpartnership.com • info@ktcpartnership.com

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