By Julie-Ann Sherlock

These days, taking care of your overall well-being and mental health has become something people are more willing to talk about, seek help, and deal with, rather than just struggle alone. 

I previously spoke about my Postpartum Depression and other moments in my life where I have had to seek professional help to deal with issues surrounding my mental health. Thankfully, I have, for the most part, overcome them and am generally as happy as it is possible for any person to be. 

Others are not so lucky. Over 280 million people worldwide live with depression in some form. 

For those struggling, please, please, believe me, it can and does get better if you can tap into the right services and/or find the medication. And remember, you are not alone or an anomaly if you have mental health problems. 

One of the newest therapies being explored is the use of Ketamine to help relieve depression, anxiety and other issues. I decided to look at it and see what it is, how it works and if there are any dangers or side effects we need to know about. 

What Is Ketamine?

Initially developed in the 1950s, Ketamine was patented as an animal anaesthetic in the late 1960s and later used on American soldiers injured in the Vietnam war. It then became a party drug (known as Special K, Vitamin K and other street names) when people discovered its psychedelic effects before English psychiatrist Dr Jansen PhD suggested that it may have benefits in treating depression and mental illness. 

Known as dissociative anaesthesia, the powerful drug calms people down and makes them feel detached from their bodies, taking them on a “trip”. This effect has made it an excellent option for emergency usage for people on the verge of suicide. Studies are ongoing into how it may help people examine their thought processes and deal with their issues. 

Does It Really Help Mental Health Issues?

Over the past twenty years or so, various studies and experiments have led many to believe that, yes, Ketamine works for those who are mentally ill. 

Controlled usage, rather than self-administered party-type doses, has seen unprecedented changes for many patients, particularly those with treatment-resistant depressions. Studies into how it works are still ongoing, but findings so far suggest that it helps to rewire the synapses in the brain somewhat by releasing molecules that open up communication between different parts of the brain. 

Some experts also think that Ketamine may impact inflammation in the brain that can cause mood disorders, and this disruption or reduction of signals may help ease these issues. 

Usage Of Ketamine For Mental Health Issues

Injections or infusions of the drug administered in a clinical, controlled setting seem to have immediate, positive impacts on those suffering from intensive bouts of depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, and crippling anxiety. The almost instantaneous relief makes it popular for emergency situations. Studies seem to show that after a couple of injections, there is a significant improvement in the patient’s mental well-being.

Many countries are running trials to examine how Ketamine can help mental health, and in the USA, several treatment centres are popping up offering controlled use of the drug. Reports so far seem to lean positively in its favour, but there are still some concerns. The FDA approved Spravato, a nasal spray containing esketamine, a version of Ketamine considered effective for managing depression, in 2019.

In Singapore, Ketamine therapy is available for pain management and last year, trials were approved to explore the drug’s benefits in a clinical setting for depression. These trials will hopefully lead to more effective management of mental health problems in the region. 

Side Effects And Fears

Even though the signs are positive that Ketamine may be an effective drug for depression and other illnesses, there are still some side effects and worries about its usage. 

One study found that the most common side effects may be pretty mild such as dizziness, feeling strange or woozy and distorted vision that lifted within 2 hours of receiving the therapy. Some people experience longer-lasting impacts such as headaches and sleepiness. Still, most effects wore off after 4 hours, and a 3-month check-up found no memory defects or Ketamine addiction issues after one dose. 

Generally speaking, side effects mostly appear with the recreational use or misuse of the drug. Self-administration or the trend of microdosing is not recommended. 

With many of us still trying to process the turmoil the recent pandemic brought into our lives, increased worries about global conflicts, recessions and general stresses, it is little wonder that depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders have become much more commonplace. 

With this growth in reported issues, maybe now is the time for more countries to introduce this possibly ground-breaking treatment? I will undoubtedly be eagerly watching how trials unfold.