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What Is Ketamine?

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine has a long history of effective use as a sedative and anesthetic. But, only over the past decade or so has it gained a reputation for treating chronic pain and mood disorders, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and treatment-resistant depression.

At Scottsdale Ketamine Clinic, our team uses low-dose ketamine infusion therapy to help patients in and around Scottsdale, Arizona, find long-lasting relief for their symptoms. If ketamine is new to you, this post offers a quick review of how ketamine treatment works.

Ketamine history in a nutshell

Ketamine is a drug that’s been around since the 1960s, when it was used as an anesthetic in veterinary practices. By 1970, ketamine had gained approval for use in sedating humans, too. 

Ketamine is a dissociative drug, which means it can create hallucinogenic feelings or the sensation of being “outside of your body” for a brief period after taking the drug. For that reason, it’s also been used as a recreational drug or club drug where it’s known under various names, such as special K.

Under a doctor’s supervision, ketamine is used today to treat chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, and depression that doesn’t respond to other types of therapy, such as antidepressants. Depending on how it’s used, ketamine is administered via injections, through an IV, or as a nasal spray.

How ketamine works

Although ketamine has been used in medicine for a half century, its role in treating pain and mood disorders is much more recent. As a result, although researchers know it can be very effective in treating both acute and chronic symptoms, they’re not entirely sure how it works to achieve those effects.

One major difference between ketamine and opioid medications is how it reacts with your body. While opioid medications target special opioid receptors on your nerves, ketamine binds with N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, inhibiting or blocking their reaction with a neurotransmitter called glutamate.

When glutamate is prevented from binding with NMDA receptors, it leaves more of the neurotransmitter “free floating” in the space around the nerve cells. Excess glutamate triggers other receptors, called AMPA receptors, to activate.

Together, the dual action on NMDA and AMPA receptors triggers the release of other chemicals that affect nerve signaling in ways that reduce pain and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. This increase in nerve-to-nerve signaling is called synaptogenesis, and researchers think it’s one of the key ways ketamine works inside the brain.

Other benefits of ketamine

Nerve pathways are one possible mechanism of action for ketamine, but the medication likely works in other ways, too. For instance, ketamine may help decrease inflammation associated with chronic pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia or chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

Researchers also think that because of the way ketamine acts on nerves and neurotransmitters, it helps correct aberrant nerve activity in people with chronic pain and mood disorders. Ketamine may help patients learn new behaviors through a neuroplasticity effect, which makes the brain more receptive to other treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for depression or physical therapy for pain.

The bottom line is this: While researchers are still learning about the underlying mechanisms of ketamine, what they do know is that it’s shown a real, measurable, lasting benefit for people with chronic pain and mood disorders — especially patients who haven’t responded to other treatments. At our clinic, we customize every ketamine treatment to the individual patient’s needs, symptoms, and history, so they can enjoy optimal benefits.

Learn more about ketamine therapy

Ketamine therapy can play a vitally important role in managing chronic, treatment-resistant pain and mood disorders. To learn more about ketamine infusion and how it could help you or a loved one improve their health and quality of life, book an appointment online or over the phone with Scottsdale Ketamine Clinic today.

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