Reading Time: 6 minutes

As the stigma surrounding mental health issues dissipates throughout the globe, people feel increasingly comfortable seeking help for these conditions. As a result, public health officials worldwide are now facing the stark reality of how common and severe these illnesses are.

One of the most widespread and concerning conditions is depression, an illness typified by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities, which can lead to physical symptoms such as fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep, and difficulty concentrating.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 5% of adults worldwide suffer from depression. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have caused a 25% increase in mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Conventionally, depressive symptoms are treated with pharmaceutical drugs, but the outcomes of these medications are mixed. As a result, medical professionals and public health officials have been keen to explore other treatments, and one has been particularly promising.

Ketamine infusion therapy has been blowing away researchers with its ability to relieve symptoms and treat depression effectively. Below is a breakdown of the differences between traditional antidepressants and ketamine infusions in treating depression and which option is the best for you or your loved one!

The various types of depression are part of a group of mental conditions known as mood disorders. When discussing depression, healthcare providers most likely refer to unipolar depression, also known as major depressive disorder or major depression. 

This type of depression is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness and a lack of interest in activities. These symptoms are in contrast to bipolar depression, which is typified by episodes of both depression and mania. During a manic episode, patients may feel extremely energized, have racing thoughts, and engage in risky behavior. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is a publication released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It is considered the leading source in defining and diagnosing mental illnesses. As per the DSM-5, patients who regularly experience at least five of the following symptoms in a two-week period meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression:

  • Depressed mood or a significant decrease of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Drastic weight gain, weight loss, or changes in appetite
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or disproportionate guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation

How Do Traditional Antidepressants Work?

Conventional antidepressants work by altering the levels of certain neurotransmitters (i.e., chemicals in the brain that help regulate mood and other mental processes). The most commonly targeted neurotransmitters by antidepressant medication are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

What Are the Limitations of Antidepressants?

Sadly, not all patients respond to antidepressant drugs. It is typical for a patient’s first oral antidepressant to prove ineffective. The patient in question will continue to try other drugs until one, if any, proves to be effective. If the symptoms persist regardless of the drug or medication used, the depression is considered treatment-resistant.

Traditional antidepressants can take several weeks, and sometimes even months, to create notable improvements in depressive symptoms.

Pharmaceutical antidepressant treatments don’t address the root problems of this condition but rather relieve depression symptoms. As such, for many patients, if the medication is stopped or if their brain chemistry is altered through other means, depression scores can increase again.

Antidepressant medications are only suitable for severe depression and, as such, are not appropriate for those with milder symptoms.

Lastly, since pharmaceutical antidepressant treatment alters the delicate brain chemistry, side effects are commonplace.

What Are the Most Common Antidepressants and Their Side Effects?

There are numerous types of antidepressants, with varying mechanisms of action and side effects. Below are the different categories of FDA-approved antidepressants and their associated side effects.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are a class of antidepressants that work by boosting the amount of serotonin in the brain. They achieve this by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin by nerve cells, leading to an increase in the amount of serotonin available to bind to receptors on other cells.

Possible side effects of SSRIs include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Sexual dysfunction

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs have a similar mechanism of action to SSRIs, but in addition to serotonin, they also increase the levels of norepinephrine in the brain. Due to their similarities, SNRIs and SSRIs also have considerable overlap in terms of their side effects.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs work by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine. By inhibiting this enzyme, MAOIs increase the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Unfortunately, using MAOIs is associated with high blood pressure, dietary restrictions, anxiety, and other side effects such as insomnia and sexual dysfunction.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs work by inhibiting the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine. TCAs are less commonly used than SSRIs or SNRIs due to the potential for severe side effects such as: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth 
  • Low blood pressure

How Does Ketamine Infusion Therapy Work?

Ketamine infusions have been gaining popularity as a treatment for depression, especially for patients who have not responded to traditional antidepressants. But how does this treatment work?

Ketamine is a medication that has been used for decades as an anesthetic in medical procedures. Recent studies have shown that it also has rapid antidepressant effects and can also be used for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment!

Ketamine works by targeting the opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for regulating pain, mood, and emotions. When ketamine binds to these receptors, it increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters, including glutamate and GABA, which can help improve mood.

Unlike traditional antidepressants, which can take several weeks to work, ketamine infusions can show results within hours of the first dose. Ketamine works differently than traditional antidepressants, and it doesn’t target serotonin receptors but opioid receptors, which leads to a faster onset of action.

The treatment involves repeated dosing, with infusions spaced out over a period of time. The typical protocol is a single dose of ketamine, followed by six infusions spaced out over two weeks. Larger doses may be needed for those who have yet to respond to the initial treatment.

Does Ketamine Infusion Therapy Work for Treatment-Resistant Depression?

Ketamine infusions have been shown to deliver significant improvements in treatment-resistant depression. Outside of infusions, ketamine helps attenuate treatment-resistant depression through an FDA-approved nasal spray called esketamine.

Is Ketamine Safe for Everyone?

Ketamine treatment is considered a safe and effective treatment option for depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions when administered by a qualified healthcare professional. 

As with any medication, there are potential risks and side effects associated with ketamine treatment. Hence, it is essential to consult a medical professional to explore your treatment options. However, ketamine has considerably fewer long-term side effects than conventional antidepressant treatments.

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Ketamine has been used as an anesthetic in medical procedures for decades. Recently, it has been studied for its potential as a treatment for mental disorders. There have been concerns about its potential for addiction as it is sometimes used as a “club drug” due to its dissociative effects. 

However, when used in a medical setting and under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional, the risk of addiction is minimal. Studies have shown that when ketamine is used as prescribed, the risk of substance abuse is low. The dissociative effects of ketamine are temporary and do not lead to addiction. It’s important to note that ketamine is a controlled substance and should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Ketamine Therapy Is the Future of Depression Treatment!

Many patients around the world have found relief from depression through ketamine. As clinical trials continue to prove its efficacy and safety in addressing depression over other medications, ketamine will only grow in popularity.

Our team at Virginia’s premier ketamine infusion clinic in Leesburg, VA, is available to answer any questions and help you create a personalized treatment plan. Send us a message through our contact us page or call us at (571) 371-0290 to connect with our friendly staff and learn more about ketamine infusion therapies and their benefits for your health. If you’re ready for a one-on-one consultation, our office at 19490 Sandridge Way Suite 240, Lansdowne, Virginia 20176, proudly serves Loudoun County and the Ashburn area, so come and let our experts create the best treatment plan for you. We also invite you to keep up with our blog and social media to get answers to many of the frequently asked questions about ketamine infusion therapies!

Get a Free Consultation Today

Phone consultations only take about 15 minutes with a doctor from Virginia Infusion Therapies. Learn more about how ketamine solves for 70% of depression patients and can solve for you.