How Ketamine Differs From Antidepressants

Ketamine and antidepressants both target brain chemicals that regulate your mood, but that’s where their similarities end. The exceptional value of ketamine lies in the way it differs from antidepressants — a benefit that can make the difference between life and death for patients with severe depression and suicidal tendencies.

At Ketamine Integrative Medicine in Gilbert. Arizona, you’ll find a team of compassionate and caring medical experts who specialize in helping patients recover from depression with ketamine infusion therapy. If you have any questions, call the office. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the differences between ketamine and antidepressants.

Different classes of drugs

Ketamine is classified as a dissociative anesthetic, and in that role, it has been safely used in children, adults, and animals for decades. However, ketamine produces different results depending on the dose.

At high doses, ketamine serves as an anesthetic that’s used during surgery. But when we give ketamine in a low dose, it’s an effective pain reliever and antidepressant.

Antidepressants fall into four classes, none of which are anesthetics:

You’re probably thinking that if you struggle with depression, then surely you want an antidepressant rather than an anesthetic, right?

The answer to that question lies in the other differences between ketamine and antidepressants, like how well they lessen depression, how quickly they work, and their potential side effects.

Effectiveness of ketamine vs. antidepressants

Some patients get great results from antidepressants. But in reality, 10-30% of patients fail to respond to their antidepressant medication. Even after trying several different types of antidepressants at varying doses — a process that takes many months of trial and error — these patients still suffer from major depression.

When people with treatment-resistant depression take just one treatment of low-dose ketamine, 50-70% experience a dramatic improvement in their symptoms. Ketamine also produces results for patients with major depression, bipolar depression, and those who are suicidal.

Rapid results vs. waiting for weeks

Even if your antidepressant works, it can take weeks to notice an improvement in your symptoms. After an intravenous (IV) infusion of ketamine, most patients experience the difference within hours.

While ketamine and antidepressants both affect neurotransmitters that regulate your moods, they go about it differently. Antidepressants target serotonin and dopamine, a method that takes weeks to help your depression, if it helps at all.

Low-dose ketamine bypasses serotonin and dopamine. Instead, it directly affects levels of another brain chemical, glutamate. As ketamine quickly balances levels of glutamate, your mood improves and your depression symptoms are lifted.

Vast variation in side effects

Since ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic, you may experience tingling or floating sensations, feel like you’re in a dream-like state, or develop dizziness, nausea, or blurry vision during your treatment. However, these side effects go away shortly after your treatment with ketamine. 

You stay in the office for at least an hour following your ketamine session so we can monitor your health before sending you home.

Beyond the immediate impact of the medication, low-dose ketamine has an impressive safety record. One study reported that over five years of using low-dose ketamine to relieve pain in veterans, virtually no side effects were reported.

By comparison, antidepressants are known for producing a wide range of side effects. The older antidepressants, TCAs, MAOIs, and atypical antidepressants, are seldom prescribed because they cause more side effects than the newer-generation antidepressants.

SSRIs and SNRIs also have long lists of possible side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, headaches, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, and insomnia. If you develop these symptoms, your doctor may need to adjust your dose or switch to a different medication to get rid of the problem. 

When you need help with ongoing depression, call Ketamine Integrative Medicine at 480-877-0908, or you can use the convenient online booking feature to request an appointment and learn if you’re a good candidate for ketamine treatments. You can also send our Ketamine Integrative Medicine team a message here on our website.

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