Manage Chronic Pain and Treatment-Resistant Depression With Ketamine Infusions

Some of the most intriguing scientific discoveries include new uses for old things and a little serendipity, like how mold led to the development of penicillin, how small burdock burrs inspired Velcro™,  or how a cathode ray tube became the first X-ray. 

Ketamine began its life as an anesthesia in the 1960s and soon found its way into parties and raves as the drug du jour. But some savvy researchers have found some new applications for ketamine that just might surprise you.

Sachi Patel, MD, at Delmarva Pain and Spine Center is on the cutting edge of ketamine therapy and successfully treats her Newark, Delaware, patients for depression and chronic pain with it. As a double-board certified interventional pain management specialist, Dr. Patel understands the challenges of patients suffering from certain treatment-resistant conditions, and she turns to ketamine to improve their symptoms. 

How ketamine treats depression

Most anti-depression drugs work by targeting your neurotransmitters, chemicals in your brain that trigger excitement. Historically, these drugs have focused specifically on the neurotransmitters called dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. 

But ketamine zeros in on a different neurotransmitter—glutamate. This hard-working chemical regulates your cognitive thoughts and emotions, plays a part in how you learn and remember, and triggers excitement. Glutamate also produces and regulates another neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). 

If you have too much glutamate and not even GABA, you may experience anxiety. If you have the opposite levels, you may feel depressed. Here’s where ketamine comes in. Ketamine performs a balancing act and normalizes your neurotransmitters.

First, it activates your opiate receptors, which has an immediate effect on your depression symptoms. This is one of the main advantages of ketamine over other anti-depression drugs that take weeks or months to take effect.

The second advantage of ketamine is that the effects are sustained. If you experience symptoms of depression and low glutamate levels, ketamine continues to increase your glutamate, maintaining the balance.

Third, once your levels are all stable, ketamine triggers your brain to generate new neural receptors, which may effectively reset your depression. 

The Food and Drug Administration approved ketamine in March 2019 for use in the treatment of depression for patients who haven’t experienced improvement with other treatments. Dr. Patel finds that about 60% of our patients get significant relief from their depression symptoms with ketamine. 

How ketamine treats chronic pain

Clearly, since ketamine originated as an anesthetic, its use in the treatment of pain is not far-fetched. Here’s how it works.

Once in your system, ketamine interacts with chemical receptors in your body called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). These receptors are in your nervous system and signal the sensation of pain. 

But NMDA receptors are not activated in everyone or in every type of pain. When they are involved, though, ketamine counteracts them and stops your pain. One of the indicators that ketamine might be effective is if you’ve tried other types of treatments and medications to no avail.

But the excitement over ketamine’s pain relief powers is more about what it replaces than what it does. Ketamine has proven effective as an alternative to opioid drugs — the drugs responsible for more than 47,000 deaths in the United States alone. 

Not only is ketamine often effective in cases where opioids aren’t, but ketamine may also serve as a way to wean addicts away from opioids. 

Dr. Patel doesn’t prescribe ketamine as the first choice of treatment for your depression symptoms or chronic pain, but if you don’t show signs of improvement with other options, she may suggest a ketamine infusion.

If you’ve tried everything and can’t get relief from your pain and depression, call us to find out if ketamine can help you. Telemedicine appointments are now available, and you can request one here.

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