Nearly 16 million Americans experience a major depressive episode each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In fact, major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. The condition, which causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, can affect how a person feels and thinks and can impact their emotional and physical well-being.
Depression is typically treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. For some patients, however, medication and therapy are not sufficient to relieve their symptoms.
Julie, 52, says she has struggled with depression her entire life. She describes herself as a “functioning depressed person.” Although she has been taking antidepressant medication for more than 20 years, which has allowed her to run a successful business, she says she continues to wake up every day feeling the “heaviness” of her depression. When she heard about a new treatment that involves receiving low dose injections of the anesthetic ketamine, she agreed to give it a try.
Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, has been used in human and veterinary medicine for more than 50 years. Under the street name “Special K,” it also has been used recreationally by teens and young adults at raves and parties. Although not approved by the FDA for use in treating depression, researchers discovered the drug could be helpful for people with treatment-resistant depression.
Anesthesiologist and founder of the Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles Dr. Steven Mandel joins The Doctors to discuss how his patients have responded to the treatments. He says he has treated more than 200 patients and has had an 83 percent success rate. Most patients require follow-up treatments, he explains, but adds the effects can last from several days, to months, and in some cases, years.
Psychiatrist Dr. Shala Modir says that although initially she was excited to learn about the new treatment option, the studies have not been comprehensive enough. Additionally, she argues the infusions may be helpful to augment current methods of treating depression, but are not an end-all solution.
Hear more of The Doctors’ debate over the use of ketamine infusions in treating depression: