How Ketamine Differs from Antidepressants

Palo Alto Mind Body, Ketamine, antidepressants, Dr. M Rameen Ghorieshi

Mental illnesses, especially depression, are increasingly grabbing headlines as suicide and homicide rates are on the rise. Though depression doesn’t always end so tragically, it can make millions of people feel like life doesn’t have much to offer. While some have found relief with antidepressants, as many as a third of those struggling with depression aren’t finding the help they need with antidepressants alone and have had no recourse. Until now.

At Palo Alto Mind Body, we offer intravenous (IV) ketamine infusions for those who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. This relatively new therapy is throwing a lifeline to those who felt they were beyond hope, and we’re pleased to make it available to our patients in the Palo Alto, California and San Francisco Bay area.

Here’s a look at how ketamine differs from antidepressants to help you decide whether this breakthrough treatment may be right for you or a loved one.

How antidepressants work

Antidepressants first burst on the scene a little more than 50 years ago as a pharmacological answer for depression. Most antidepressants work by altering your brain’s chemicals, or neurotransmitters, to relieve the symptoms of depression. The most widely used antidepressants belong to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) category.

Your brain relies on many chemicals to transmit signals among your nerve cells, chief among them serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Once these chemicals enable a transmission, your body quickly reabsorbs them into your nerve cells. With SSRIs, your serotonin isn’t reabsorbed so quickly and instead lingers long enough to strengthen the neural pathways that control your moods.

Antidepressants of this kind have helped millions of people break out of depression, but it’s often a long, hard road because it can take several weeks to several months for the effects to be realized.

Antidepressants are also an inexact science because everyone’s brain is wired differently, and there’s no one-size-fits-all dosing model. This means that your doctor may have to continually tweak your antidepressants in order to find the right solution for your unique situation.

The ketamine difference

If you’ve struggled with treating your depression with antidepressants to no avail, you might find a different result with ketamine, which approaches the disorder from a new angle. This drug was first used as an anesthetic, but researchers found that it also worked to quickly relieve the symptoms of depression.

While there’s still much to be learned about depression and the human brain, we know this: Ketamine works by activating your G proteins (guanine nucleotide-binding proteins), which are responsible for delivering messages from the outside of your cells to the inside. These proteins aren’t always active, but for those who suffer from depression, scientists believe that a larger number of these G proteins are essentially turned off. For more on this, please reference this article, which was written by our own Dr. M Rameen Ghorieshi.

With a ketamine infusion, the drug reactivates these dormant G proteins almost immediately, which is why ketamine is lauded for its fast-acting results. In fact, one study showed that it took just 15 minutes after a ketamine infusion for the G proteins to go back to work.

In addition to acting quickly, ketamine keeps the G proteins active longer, which is how ketamine produces results long after the drug is out of your system. In other words, ketamine creates an immediate, and lasting, effect that antidepressants don’t offer.

The road to recovery

Most of our patients undergo six to eight IV ketamine infusions within a space of two weeks. We prefer to administer the ketamine intravenously since it goes straight into your bloodstream without becoming diluted through alternative delivery methods. We administer low doses of ketamine so they don’t bring on the dissociative and hallucinogenic effects that come with higher doses. Instead, these low doses provide longer-lasting benefits that address depression.

After your initial course of ketamine infusions, you may benefit from maintenance infusions less frequently to ensure that your brain’s chemicals are well-regulated.


If you’d like to explore how ketamine might offer you a better outcome than antidepressants, please give us a call or use the online scheduling tool on this website to set up a consultation.

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