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How Does Ketamine Infusion Therapy Work?

Ketamine has been used as an anesthetic for decades, but recent research has shown that it can also be an effective treatment for chronic pain and mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. If you’re considering ketamine infusion therapy, you probably have a lot of questions about how it works. Here’s a brief overview. 

What to Expect During Ketamine Therapy

Ketamine is mainly administered intravenously (through an IV line), although it can also be given intranasally (as a nasal spray for the treatment of major depression). A single infusion session lasts for 2 hours, with the IV infusion itself lasting 40 minutes to an hour. During this entire session, you will be closely monitored by a doctor or nurse. To see the best results, patients typically come in once a week for 6 weeks in a row.

During the infusion, you may feel drowsy, lightheaded, and slightly disconnected from reality. It’s important to remember that these sensations are normal and temporary – they usually dissipate in a couple of hours after treatment.

Ketamine infusion therapy is not a one-time solution – treatment usually consists of two phases of treatment; an induction phase, which is typically 4-8 infusions administered over one to two weeks, and a maintenance phase, which consists of periodic booster infusions administered on an as-needed basis.

How Does Ketamine Work?

The exact mechanism by which ketamine works is not fully understood, but it’s thought to work by binding to NMDA receptors in the brain, which are responsible for facilitating glutamatergic neurotransmission.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mood regulation and pain processing in the brain and has been implicated in the development of chronic pain and psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.

By modulating glutamate, ketamine kickstarts a cascade of events that help restore normal communication between various parts of the brain and reinstate normalcy in mood and pain processing. In essence, ketamine helps “rewire” the brain, allowing it to function more effectively.

What Are the Benefits of Ketamine Infusion Therapy?

One of the major benefits of ketamine infusion therapy is that it works very quickly – in some cases, the effects of a single infusion can be felt within hours of treatment. Additionally, ketamine has been shown to be an effective treatment for people who have not responded to other forms of treatment, including medication and talk therapy. 

Ketamine is also highly versatile and can help with a wide variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, suicidal ideation, and chronic pain. It is also being explored as a potential treatment for substance use disorders.

Other benefits include little-to-no side effects, prolonged relief from symptoms (the therapeutic effects can last up to several months), and a low risk of addiction when administered in a medical setting by a qualified treatment team.

Are There Any Side Effects?

As with any medication, there are some potential side effects associated with ketamine infusion therapy. These include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and mild hallucinations or dissociation (a detachment from reality). Luckily, these side effects are short-lived and disappear within minutes.

The Takeaway

Ketamine is an exciting new treatment option for a variety of mental health and chronic pain conditions. While research is still ongoing, clinical trials have shown promising results, and ketamine therapy is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative treatment for treatment-refractory depression and other psychiatric disorders, as well as chronic pain.

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