We all experience days, and sometimes even weeks where we might not feel our best mentally. Feelings of sadness and anxious thoughts, for one reason or another, are all normal experiences relating to the human condition. Nevertheless, sometimes this negative headspace can linger much longer. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. 

Mental Health in the US 

Mental health difficulties affect many people in the United States today. As a matter of fact, 1 in 5 Americans are currently living with mental illness, enduring symptoms that may range from mild to moderate. One of the most common mental health disorders is depression, which is characterized as a mood disorder and affects over 16.2 million adults over the age of 18. These persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of hope can seriously alter the quality of life in an individual. 

Fortunately, for many people, both medications and therapy have proven to be exceedingly effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety. However, up to one third of those diagnosed with mental illness are resistant to traditional medication and treatment. This is another disorder known as TRD, or Treatment Resistant Depression. Those who are unresponsive to treatment with two or more antidepressant medication trials are considered treatment resistant.  Luckily, recent research and treatments are finding promise in the integration of Ketamine Therapy along with cognitive therapy in the treatment of depression. 

What is Ketamine? 

Classified as a dissociative anesthetic, Ketamine, has been used by paramedics and hospital staff since the 1970s. Ketamine is widely used in medical settings due to its ability to sedate a patient, without significantly affecting major body systems, such as the respiratory or cardiovascular systems. It has also been known as one of the  safest and most widely used analgesics in the veterinary world over the last 40 years for this same reason. 

In more recent years, research on this popular anesthetic has shown to block glutamate production, a neurotransmitter, which increases the brain’s excitability.  Excess production has been shown to put the brain into a fight or flight state contributing to anxiety and depression. Blocking these key receptors  has a positive impact on mood, cognition and judgement.  When administered intravenously, in combination with cognitive therapy, Ketamine Therapy has shown to be successful in treating patients experiencing mental health distress- even those who have been resistant to traditional medication and treatment in the past. 

How does Ketamine differ from traditional antidepressants? 

Most antidepressant medications work to change levels of monoamines in the brain and facilitate feelings of contentment.  These monoamines are the three neurotransmitters : dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. The monoamine system is involved in mediating a variety of cognitive functions including:

  • Dopamine: emotion, reward, motor control 
  • Norepinephrine: stress, focus, attention 
  • Serotonin:Mood regulation, behavior                

While these types of medications provide relief to many, they can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks to create positive change in mood and mental health; and unfortunately for the treatment resistant, they don’t seem to help at all. 

Ketamine and the Brain 

Ketamine works on a different neurological system than conventional antidepressants by facilitating the growth of synapses.  A healthy brain has neuroplasticity which is the capability to form new neural connections and the ability to evolve and adapt to changes. In those with depression and anxiety, the brain has a decreased neuroplasticity. As a result, brain cell activity slows and cells are not able to signal correctly.  This impairment of neural communication and function greatly affects major areas of the brain that are connected to emotion and other cognitive functioning. 

This is where ketamine comes into play.  Ketamine blocks NMDA receptors in the brain. This can significantly reduce the state of fight and flight. When this occurs, new nerve connections  can sprout. This increase in the number of synaptic connections creates an acute antidepressant effect in the individual being treated – in as little as an hour. This is profound in comparison to the several weeks that traditional antidepressants may take to take effect.

Ketamine and Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy 

Although ketamine has been found to be an impressive stand-alone therapy for treatment resistant depression, we must not forget another important piece to the equation which is cognitive psychotherapy. While ketamine can reduce symptoms relating to moderate to severe depression, psychotherapy is crucial in the quest to understand feelings and behaviors behind depression and a diminished mental state. Illogical or defeatist thoughts can contribute to a depressive state of mind and even self destructive patterns. Cognitive therapy in general  provides the individual with ways to alter behavior and to create positive changes in thought process and perspectives on life. Psychotherapy combined with ketamine is called ketamine assisted psychotherapy. This type of therapy prepares a person for a ketamine experience and helps them integrate any positive changes that come about as a result of a ketamine intervention.  A combination of these two modalities has shown outstanding success in a patient’s long term recovery and quality of life. 

Ketamine and Cognitive Therapy at OWM Integrative Wellness 

Ketamine Therapy Room at OWM

Ketamine Therapy Room at OWM

At OWM, patients can expect a fully integrated approach in the treatment of  depression and many other psychiatric conditions including: anxiety, PTSD, extreme stress, and chronic pain. 

The first step in the treatment process is a comprehensive medical exam and blood work panel with Dr. Kaplan followed by a meeting with one of the two psychotherapists that work with Dr Kaplan. Therapy sessions are held both before and after the ketamine treatment plan to establish a sense of understanding and purpose to the patient’s recovery. This combined effort ensures that the patient’s desires from the treatment outcome are being met. 

Ketamine sessions at OWM are administered in a private, peaceful room where patients are  provided with a spa-like experience including warm blankets and relaxing music. 

This groundbreaking therapy has the potential for life-changing and long lasting, positive  outcomes in the treatment of depression. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with mental health, and have been resistant to treatment in the past, contact OWM Integrative Wellness, for more information on the steps you can take to begin your journey into healing.