At any given moment, 15 million Americans are suffering from depression, a debilitating life-changing disease. There are many antidepressant medications available to the public and treatment for the condition usually consists of a combination of medication and therapy. The drug ketamine is gaining popularity among doctors as a treatment for depression though it has not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for the purpose.
In 2006, a team from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) published a study showing that a single intravenous dose of ketamine produced “robust and rapid antidepressant effects” within a couple of hours. This theory is further highlighted by research performed by David Feifel, MD, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego.
According to a report by National Public Radio, Feifel began administering ketamine as a treatment for depression to his patients in 2010. Since then, thousands of depressed patients have received “off-label” treatment using ketamine. The term “off-label” refers to a medication that has not been approved by the FDA for that particular purpose. It is perfectly legal for a doctor to prescribe medication for a purpose other than the FDA-approved use.
Professor Feifel was aware ketamine had risks. He was also aware it had been used for decades as an anesthetic to stop pain without affecting breathing. When Feifel began treating some patients with low doses of ketamine, he was opposed by some psychiatrists including Tom Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health.
One of Feifel’s patients, Paul, has been receiving ketamine every four to six weeks for a year. He feels an altered state of reality for an hour or two after receiving the drug. The curbing of his depression and anxiety lasts more than a month.
Professor Feifel says ketamine doesn’t always work that well. After treating more than 100 patients, he notices that the effects fade quickly for some. Feifel charges $500 for one injection and $1,000 for an intravenous infusion. Insurers don’t cover the cost because the treatment is considered experimental.
According to the weekly science journal Nature, ketamine works incredibly fast. Unlike conventional antidepressants, which generally take weeks to start working, ketamine lifts depression in as little as two hours. Psychiatrist James Murrough at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City said, “It blew the doors off what we thought we knew about depression treatment.”
While the efficacy of ketamine treatment for depression remains to be determined, modalities of therapy are available to ease mental health disorders. If you or a family member are struggling with depression or other mental illnesses and would like further information, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at any time.