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Intranasal Ketamine for the Relief of Cluster Headache

Ketamine’s Mechanism of Action

Ketamine (2-chlorophenyl)-2-(methylamino)-cyclohexanone hydrochloride), a human and veterinary anesthetic agent, has an extremely varied set of pharmacologic actions depending on the dosage used.1 A selective uncompetitive N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) glutamate receptor antagonist, the drug has been in legitimate clinical use since 1963.

When administered as an appropriate pharmacologic agent, ketamine has been shown to serve as a safe anesthetic agent. At sub-anesthetic doses, ketamine acts as an uncompetitive antagonist at ionotropic NMDA-type glutamate receptors, binding to a site on the receptor while it is open. Ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) mediate the majority of excitatory neurotransmission throughout the mammalian brain. Based on their pharmacology, there are three main classes of glutamate-activated channels:

  • α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors (AMPARs)
  • kainate receptors
  • N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDAR).

Among ion-gated receptor subtypes (iGluRs), NMDAR are exceptional in their high unitary conductance, high Ca2+ permeability, and remarkably slow gating kinetics.

Ketamine has relatively specific effects on other glutamate subtypes. Several families of these receptors also include AMPA-type and kainate receptors, and the metabotropic family of receptors, of which many exist. NMDARs, in particular, are glutamate-gated ion channels primarily for calcium ions and are crucial for neuronal communication. NMDARs form tetrameric complexes that consist of several subunits. The subunit composition of NMDARs is subject to many changes, resulting in large numbers of receptor subtypes. Each subtype has distinct pharmacological and signaling properties.1 Interest and research is growing and abounds in defining specific functions of subtypes of the glutamate receptor system in both normal and pathological conditions in the central nervous system.

Clinical use of ketamine has led to reports of psychedelic side effects, such as hallucinations, memory defects, panic attacks, as well as nausea/vomiting, somnolence, cardiovascular stimulation and, in a minority of patients, hepatoxicity.In the author’s clinical experience, patients may feel a temporary sense of calm or fogginess after ketamine infusion.

Use in Migraine, Cluster Headache, and Neuropathic Pain Disorders

In more recent years, a very small number of clinicians, including the author, have used ketamine intravenously (IV), and in some cases, via intramuscular injection, to treat migraine, cluster headache, and various other chronic pain disorders, including mixed headache and neuropathic pain clinical syndromes.3-21 In the author’s clinic specifically, ketamine has been used via IV administration for more than 20 years to treat nearly 1,000 patients with various headache and pain disorders. These include: migraine and cluster headache flare-ups; headaches associated with orofacial pain disorders, such as trigeminal neuralgia (TN); atypical face pain; temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD); and neck pain.

Clinical use of ketamine has led to reports of psychedelic side effects, such as hallucinations, memory defects, panic attacks, as well as nausea/vomiting, somnolence, cardiovascular stimulation and, in a minority of patients, hepatoxicity. In the author’s clinical experience, patients may feel a temporary sense of calm or fogginess after a ketamine infusion.

The focus of this paper is to provide a summary of specific retrospective cases in which intranasal ketamine was used for the rescue of cluster headache in patients who had previously experienced a positive outcome from IV ketamine in the author’s outpatient clinic. Cluster headache was successfully eradicated in several patients [n = 17], prompting a mini anecdotal-based trial of rescue intranasal ketamine for continuing or new cluster headache flare-ups to be used by these patients at their home. Table I outlines the outpatient clinic’s treatment of various migraine and headache types. As shown, cluster headache was successfully eradicated in several patients [n = 17], prompting a mini anecdotal-based trial of rescue intranasal ketamine for continuing or new cluster headache flare-ups to be used by these patients at their home.

Retrospective Case Summaries

The dose of intranasal ketamine prescribed to patients ranged between 7.5 mg and 15 mg per 0.1 cc nasal spray (75 and 150 mg of ketamine per cc compounded in normal saline by a pharmacy). Patients were instructed to use one spray in the nostril of the affected side and wait 10 to 15 minutes to feel any effects, including side effects. They were to use the spray when they felt a cluster attack coming on. Patients were asked to use another spray of ketamine in the same nostril at 10- to 15-minute intervals until a sufficient degree of relief (at least 60 to 75%) was obtained for that cluster attack. If the attack still came on after about one hour, the instructions were for the patient to repeat the procedure. All patients were instructed not to drive after taking the medication and signed off on this agreement. Patients were also instructed to keep the nasal spray refrigerated when not in use; no efficacy loss was reported. Of the 17 patients who trialed the nasal spray, 11 elected not to have the intranasal ketamine compounded, or were lost to follow-up, leaving six case scenarios which are summarized herein.

Case 1

A 38-year-old male, with a 16-year history of cluster headache, including a family history of the same, had tried a number of acute and prophylactic agents with, at best, a shortening of the cluster episode. His attacks tended to flare in the spring and lasted up to three months at a time with 4 to 6 episodes per day. The attacks prevented him from working and he came to the outpatient clinic for IV treatment with ketamine, which resulted in a complete cessation after three days, with resolution of allodynia on the right side as well. He elected to try intranasal ketamine (15 mg) at the first onset of his next cluster episode. He reported pain relief and a feeling of calm after 2 to 3 sprays, with no adverse effects. Sometimes, he had to repeat the dosing regimen the next day.

Case 2

A 25-year-old woman was thrown from a horse during a competition and fractured her cervical spine, requiring surgery. The injury included syringomyelia between C3 and C7-T1 and left her with left-sided dystonia of the upper and lower body, abdomen, and chest wall, together with left-sided migraines, which she reported as new. Several times a year, she would awaken every night with left-sided cluster headache episodes, with facial allodynia, tearing, eyelid drooping, and increased dystonia and neck spasm; these occurred primarily in the winter season, with several up to six episodes in per night for a period of three to six weeks.

IV ketamine relieved most of her dystonic, cluster headache, and migraine symptoms, when complemented by IV and oral baclofen and tizanidine, as well as rescue opioids. Nasal spray ketamine was compounded, as well as buccal troches; both allowed her to continue working full-time in her hair salon. She reported no side effects while using the nasal spray ketamine. Liver function tests conducted every three to six months were unremarkable.

Cluster headache is characterized by excruciating, debilitating pain lasting from 15 to 180 minutes, or occasionally longer. The pain is typically located around or through one eye or on the temple. (Source: 123RF)

Case 3

A 55-year-old woman with episodic cluster headache and migraine (3 to 4 attacks per week) also experienced chronic neck pain and had diagnosed TN on the right side. Her cluster headache attacks started at age 27, with tearing, allodynia, and facial numbness. On occasion, her migraine would evolve into a cluster episode that came on during sleep and was seasonal as well, lasting about 2 months on average. She was not a smoker and had no family history of cluster headache but did have a family history of migraine.

She was treated successfully for migraine, right TN, and neck pain with botulinum toxin-A injections (Botox) every 3 to 5 months, supplemented by prophylactic neuropathically active medications, but no opioids. The Botox did not affect her cluster headache, except when they evolved from a migraine, and only to a slight extent (15 to 20%). Multiple acute and prophylactic therapies were attempted to resolve the cluster headache episodes to no significant avail.

IV ketamine was tried on one occasion over a period of 4 days during a cluster headache episode. As a result, the attacks were reduced from 5 per day to 1 per day, and only 1 cluster attack the following week, which was resolved with additional oral oxcarbazepine (600 mg).

The patient agreed to trial nasal spray ketamine which was compounded at 10 mg per 0.1 cc spray with the suggestion that she spray the right nostril every 10 to 15 minutes upon attack to give the medicine time to absorb from the nasal mucosa and to repeat the process until at least 75% relief was obtained. She reported being happy with this approach as it gave her control of her hardest-to-treat symptom. She also reported that her cluster episodes became less frequent over about 1 year and that her migraine and TN also improved; her Botox injection intervals grew longer over time.

Case 4

A 70-old-male, with a 40-plus year history of right-sided cluster attacks with eyelid drooping, tearing, allodynia, neck pain, and other symptoms was treated for these symptoms for many years. Opioids provided him with partial relief, at best. He had a chronic cluster headache that typically awoke him from a sound sleep at 1 or 2 am. These episodes were especially bad in the winter and during weather changes. He had a history of facial and other traumas before the headaches started, including a car accident, but no family history of cluster headache. He also had occasional migraine, about three per month, as well as chronic neck and back pain. He was treated with IV medications, including ketamine, up to 200 mg over 5 hours, with relief of his symptoms in the clinic.

He agreed to trial a compounded nasal spray of ketamine [12.5 mg per 0.1 cc] to use at each bedtime. Two sprays were indicated before each bedtime and at the first onset of any cluster headache at night. Sprays were repeated every 10 minutes until 50 to 65% relief was achieved. He took tizanidine before bedtime for neck spasm and sleep. The patient would, on occasion, repeat one or two ketamine sprays in the morning or during the day if he felt the next cluster attack coming on. As he was on frequent IV and nasal spray ketamine, his liver functions tests were routinely monitored over the course of several years; there was no observed impact.

Case 5

A 34-year-old male who worked in construction began having episodic cluster headache episodes at age 22. He had a family history of migraine and cluster headache. His attacks were season-specific, occurring mostly in the early summer of each or every other year. He described the attacks as very disabling and often awoke from a sound sleep for several weeks at a time as a result of them. He had tried several oral medications, including opioids, for suppression of symptoms without any real benefit and many side effects. When he first presented to the clinic, he trialed IV lidocaine, IV valproate sodium, and IV magnesium sulfate with only partial success in shutting down the episode.

IV ketamine was also offered at the beginning of one of his episodes, and it proved to work more effectively than other treatments. Specifically, the patient’s cluster episode duration was reduced by more than two-thirds (6 to 7 weeks to 7 to 10 days). Based on this result, he was prescribed compounded nasal spray ketamine (7.5 mg per 0.1cc spray) and instructed to use the spray once at bedtime, with additional sprays in one nostril (the affected side of the cluster headache) every 10 minutes until relief was obtained to at least 75%. The patient was also instructed to use the same approach during the day if the cluster headache returned. He used nasal spray ketamine for several years and his overall pattern became easier to treat successfully. His episodes grew further apart and he has reported only one short cluster headache episode in the past four years.

She got extinction of the cluster episode or at least 75% reductions in the cluster headache severity with up to 4-5 nasal sprays of ketamine at the dose described above, and has also noticed a shortening and diminution of the cluster headache episodes as time has gone by.

Case 6

A 51-year-old male, with a family history of cluster headache began having episodic attacks at age 18 with strong occurrences in the spring. He was a smoker. He had tried a calcium channel blocker, lithium, and other medications to little or no avail over the years. He found that triptans taken early in the course of a cluster attack, at several doses, would sometimes abort or lighten the burden of that particular cluster series.

A 3-day course of IV ketamine at the onset of one of his episodes nearly eradicated the episode, and since he lived a great distance (6 hours each way) from the clinic, he wanted to try the nasal spray form of ketamine for at-home application. He reported that a daily dose of 1500 mg of Depakote-ER often softened the arrival of his next cluster headache episode, as did prescribed triptans. However, he did not experience an end to the attack until IV ketamine had been administered.

15 mg per 0.1cc of nasal spray ketamine were compounded for this patient. He reported some nasal burning with the nasal ketamine formulation, so was advised by his pharmacist to use one drop of 2% lidocaine and orange oil as part of the prescription. This addition alleviated the side effect. The patient has successfully used this approach for many years to date. He requires 5 to 6 nasal sprays of ketamine per day, and his episodic cluster headache pattern has markedly softened and shortened in the past few years. He has reduced his dosage of Depakote-ER to 1 or 2 per day as well and attempted to stop smoking several times.

Discussion and Recommendation

The specificity of the ketamine speaks to a unique mechanism of action primarily through the blockade of the NMDA-glutamate and other close-related receptors. This treatment approach may provide insight into the distinctive involvement of this receptor family in the generation and maintenance of this and perhaps other, more rare trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias, or TACs.21

Based on this anecdotal evidence, observed retrospectively in the author’s outpatient clinic over a period of 20 years, intranasal ketamine seems to offer a legitimate, safe pharmacologic treatment for cluster headache rescue. The medication adds a new dimension to managing out-of-control cluster headache and mixed headache/pain disorders in an outpatient setting with no monitoring. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are needed to confirm these primarily open-label observations. It should be noted that a small number of patients (5) were given sham nasal treatment and their cluster headache did not respond.

The author found sub-anesthetic doses of intranasal ketamine to be very useful in the control of episodic and chronic cluster headache attacks, as well as in managing certain trigeminal neuralgia symptoms. On a 0 to 10 visual analog scale, pain scores were below 60 to 65% from initial baseline pain score after the use of the intranasal ketamine spray. Efficacy, as well as safety, and tolerability, of low dose IV ketamine were seen consistently in the outpatient clinic, without significant adverse effects. In the author’s opinion, therefore, ketamine may be considered when treating this clinically disabling condition. When used under controlled conditions, ketamine in a nasal spray form may offer a safe and more effective option to patients than emergency room visits and may also serve as a substitute for more standard IV-based rescue cluster headache medications.

About Cluster Headache:Cluster headache is characterized by excruciating, debilitating pain lasting from 15 to 180 minutes, or occasionally longer. The pain is typically located around or through one eye or on the temple. A series of cluster headaches can take place over several weeks to months, and may occur once or twice per year. Several of the following related symptoms may occur: lacrimation, nasal congestion, rhinorrhea, conjunctival injection, ptosis, miosis of the pupil, or forehead and facial sweating. Nausea, bradycardia and general perspiration may present as well. Attacks usually recur on the same side of the head. Cluster headaches afflict males more than females by a 2.5 to 1 ratio and have an overall prevalence of 0.4%. Onset of clusters is usually between ages 20 and 45. There is often no family history of cluster headache.

  1. Robert K, Simon C. Pharmacology and Physiology in Anesthetic Practice. 4th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins; 2005
  2. Niesters M, Martini C, Dahan A. Ketamine for chronic pain: risks and benefits. Br J Clin Phamacol. 2014;77(2):357–367.
  3. Virginia Scott-Krusz, Jeanne Belanger, RN, Jane Cagle, LVN, Krusz, JC, Effectiveness of IV therapy in the headache clinic for refractory migraine, poster at 9th EFNS meeting Athens, Greece. 2005.
  4. Krusz, JC. Intravenous treatment of chronic daily headaches in the outpatient headache clinic. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2006;10(1):47-53.
  5. Krusz JC, Cagle J, Belanger J, Scott-Krusz, V. Effectiveness of IV therapy for pain in the clinic, Poster P183 presented at 2nd International Congress on Neuropathic Pain Berlin, Germany. 2007
  6. Krusz JC, Cagle J, Hall S. Efficacy of IV ketamine to treat pain disorders in the pain clinic, (poster 216). J Pain. 27th Annual Scientific. American Pain Society, 2008.
  7. Krusz JC, Cagle J, Hall S. Efficacy of IV ketamine in treating refractory migraines in the clinic (poster 218). J Pain. 27th Annual Scientific. American Pain Society, 2008.
  8. Krusz JC, Cagle J, Hall S. Intramuscular (IM) ketamine for treating headache and pain flare-ups in the clinic (poster 219). J Pain. 27th Annual Scientific. American Pain Society, 2008.
  9. Krusz JC. IV ketamine in the clinic to treat Cluster Headache (poster abstract). American Academy of Neurology. Neurol. 2009;72(11):A89-90.
  10. Krusz JC, Cagle J, Scott-Krusz VB. Ketamine for treating multiple types of headaches (poster). 14th Congress International Headache Society. Cephalalgia. 2009;29(Suppl 1)163.
  11. Krusz JC. Difficult Migraine Patient. Pract Pain Manage. 2011;11(4):16.
  12. Krusz JC, Cagle J. IV Ketamine: Rapid Treatment for All TAC Subtypes in the Clinic, Abstract Poster #72, 15th Congress of the International Headache Society, Berlin, Germany, 2011.
  13. Krusz JC, Cagle J. IM ketamine for intractable headaches and migraines (poster abstract). American Headache Society Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA, 2012.
  14. Krusz JC. Traumatic Brain Injury: Treatment of Post-traumatic Headaches. Pract Pain Manage. 2013;13(5):57-68.
  15. Krusz JC, Cagle J, Belanger J, Scott-Krusz V. Effectiveness of IV therapy for pain in the clinic, Poster P183. European J Pain:11, Suppl 1, pS80, presented at 2nd Int’l Congress on Neuropathic Pain, Berlin, Germany. 2007.
  16. Krusz JC, Cagle J, Hall S. Efficacy of IV ketamine to treat pain disorders in the pain clinic, (poster 216). J Pain, 9: Suppl 2, P30, 27th Annual Scientific. American Pain Society. 2008.
  17. Krusz JC. Ketamine IV in an outpatient setting: effective treatment for neuropathic pain syndromes (poster #378). 32nd Annual Scientific Meeting, American Pain Society, New Orleans, 2013.
  18. Krusz JC. Ketamine IV – for CRPS, TN/TMD and other neuropathic pain in the outpatient clinic (poster #524). 4th International Congress on Neuropathic Pain, Toronto, Ontario, 2013.
  19. Krusz JC. The IV ketamine experience: treatment of migraines, headaches and TAC. JAMA Neurol. 2018
  20. Matharu MS, Goadsby PJ. Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias: Diagnosis and Management. In: Silberstein SD, Lipton RB, Dodick DW, eds. Wolff’s Headache and Other Head Pain. 8th ed. New York, NY: Oxford Univ Press; 2008:379-430.
  21. Johnson JW, Glasgow NG, Povysheva NV. Recent insights into the mode of action of memantine and ketamine. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2015 ;20:54-63. 

The Path from Episodic to Chronic Migraine

Although episodic migraine and chronic migraine are common, they represent distinct types of headaches on the migraine pain spectrum.1 Factors involved in the transformation from episodic to chronic migraine include frequency of episodes, failure to optimize acute treatment, overuse of acute migraine medication, lower socioeconomic status, obesity, and being female.1,2 The most common technique for managing these headache conditions is pharmacologic, however, medication overuse is also the most common reason that episodic migraine may evolve into chronic migraine, often resulting in medicine overuse headache (MOH).

According to Lipton, et al,3 patients have reported that their acute treatment of episodic migraine was poorly managed as measured by the Migraine Treatment Optimization Questionnaire, with 6.8% of patients developing chronic migraine within one year compared to 1.9% of patients reporting optimized acute treatment. These results suggested the need for more effective acute treatment strategies to manage symptoms associated with episodic and chronic type migraine. In response, several studies have since shown a potential alternative treatment involving the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) to be effective in reducing episodes of chronic migraine (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG). (Image courtesy of authors).

The SPG is the largest neurological ganglion outside the brain, located within the pterygopalatine fossa at the posterior attachment of the middle turbinate. This ganglion has sensory, parasympathetic, and sympathetic components that house the trigeminal nerve, branches of the palatine nerves, and various sympathetic and parasympathetic automatic branches all of which innervate the cranial cavities (eg, nose, mouth) as well as facial areas, and the nasal and pharyngeal glands.4 Based on the SPG’s anatomy and physiology, it has become evident that many associated symptoms of chronic migraine may be managed by targeting the SPG using alternative methods that aim to decrease activity in this region.

Migraine may be related, at least in part, to a hyper-excited SPG. Stimulation of the SPG has been shown to induce a pathophysiological response seen in migraine attacks, including vasodilation of intra- and extra-cranial arteries, release of substance P and neurokinin A, as well as activation of meningeal nociceptors, which may be contributing to the pain.4

Treatment Alternatives
Neurological Blockage of the SPG

Alternative treatments targeting the SPG have been developed as a means of lessening the symptoms associated with migraine. One trialed approach is a neurological blockade at the SPG with bupivacaine using a nasal applicator5,6 and topical lidocaine applied with a deep nasal anesthetic applicator (DNAA).7 Cady, et al, published two studies utilizing the device to deliver bupivacaine to the mucosa of the SPG. The first, primarily a safety study, was designed to determine acute effects. The researchers reported the bupivacaine treatment group (n = 26) decreased from pre-treatment 3.18 ± 2.79 to post-treatment at 15 minutes 2.53 ± 2.61, 30 minutes 2.41 ± 2.61, and 24 hours 2.85 ± 2.74.5

The second study was designed to determine the long-term effects of bupivacaine by delivering a set of 12 treatments over a period of six weeks. Results demonstrated that the bupivacaine treatment group (n = 25) had a significant decrease in the number of headaches in a month from 23.15 ± 5.12 to 17.44 ± 9.08 compared to 24.75 ± 4.35 to 22.82 ± 5.36 in a sham group, which was administered saline. Additionally, the average pain scores reported by the subjects in the prior 24 hours decreased from pre-treatment of 4.92 ± 2.2 to 2.86 ± 2.62 at six months after the last bupivacaine treatment.6

Lee, et al, reported 59 out of 66 cases treated with 26% lidocaine applied with DNAA had an average decrease of 4.9 pain points and 4.2 points at 15 minutes and 60 minutes post-application, respectively.7 The treatment provided rapid relief of the headache pain and decreased activity of the SPG, thereby reducing the pain associated with the migraine.5-7

Similarly, an inhibitory dose of photobiomodulation (PBM) appears to have a similar efficacy in decreasing SPG activity and may reduce migraine pain and frequency by inhibiting nerve conduction of type C pain fibers.8,9

Moving away from pharmacologic methods to treating migraine. (Source: 123RF)

Photobiomodulation

Adopted by the North American Association of Photobiomodulation Therapy, photobiomodulation refers to light therapy treatments that utilize non-ionizing light sources in the visible and infrared spectrum.8 PBM is a non-thermal process that involves endogenous chromophores which elicit photophysical and photochemical events. These events theoretically lead to beneficial therapeutic outcomes, including the alleviation of pain or inflammation and immunomodulation, as well as the promotion of wound healing and tissue regeneration.8 More specifically, PBM emits photons of light that penetrate the skin and stimulate endogenous light receptors, which result in a physiological response. Low doses of PBM stimulate tissue healing and increase blood flow9 while higher doses tend to have an inhibitory effect, which may be used therapeutically to decrease pain.9

For example, low doses of light that are delivered to the tissue stimulate the cytochrome C oxidase (CCO) within the mitochondria, resulting in an increase in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and a release of nitric oxide (NO) and reactive oxygen species (ROS).9 The ATP provides an increase in energy availability within the cells. When NO is released from CCO and from blood vessels, the result is an increase in ATP production and vasodilation. When ROS is in low concentrations, it activates the transcription factors, which lead to cell proliferation and growth.9

The authors trialed PBM on three patients (ages 42, 53, and 72) with a history of chronic migraine. Each patient had suffered from two to five migraine attacks per week for at least the prior 10 years (see Table I). Each was successfully treated using a PBM protocol to the SPG.

Initial reported pain levels ranged from 8 to 10 out of a 10-point pain scale. All three patients completed daily activities with difficulties due to frequent and painful symptoms. All patients had previously attempted pharmacological methods of treatment with little to no relief, or with additional side effects from MOH that hindered daily functioning.

Each PBM treatment consisted of applying a laser puncture utility probe attached to a PBM-transducer (Multi Radiance Medical) that delivered the photons to the SPG. The probe was placed just inside each nostril pointing toward the posterior nasal cavity where the SPG is located (see Figure 2). The treatment frequency and number of overall treatments were tailored to each patient’s responsiveness.

Figure 2. Inhibitory photobiomodulation treatment to the sphenopalatine ganglion with probe (image courtesy of authors).

Each treatment lasted 180 seconds per nostril (23.9 joules, 0.0382 watts, 6.87J/chronic). The device characteristics were as follows: wavelength super pulsed laser 905 nm; infrared 875 nm; Red 670 nm; total power, 25W, SPL variable frequency: 1000 Hz and beam spot size 0.4. The patients were evaluated for migraine frequency and intensity both pre- and post-treatment, and throughout the duration of the treatment.

Patient 1: This 42-year old male developed a chronic migraine condition following a traumatic head injury, resulting in a skull fracture. His regimen encompassed three PBM treatments over a 4-week period. After the first treatment, the patient experienced no migraine for 2 weeks. His reported migraine pain decreased from 8 out of 10 to a 0 out of 10 after each treatment. After the full course, the patient reported no migraine for another 2 weeks and self-discharged from our care (follow-up was not possible).

Patient 2: A 53-year-old female was scheduled to receive a course of six PBM treatments over 21 days. The patient reported reduced frequency and intensity of migraine with aura after the first six treatments. This patient did not miss any work during the treatment period. It is worth noting that prior to starting the PBM treatments, Patient 2 had missed work due to pain intensity of her migraine and what she reported as mental dullness as a result of the medication used to control her migraine symptoms. Due to the decrease in frequency and intensity of her migraine attacks, PBM treatments were reduced to one per week for 4 weeks. Patient 2 was migraine-free at discharge after 8 weeks of total treatment. At 90-day follow-up, the patient reported that she had not experienced a post-treatment migraine.

Patient 3: A 72-year-old female underwent a course of eight PBM treatments over 4 weeks (two applications per week). Patient 3 reported that she was migraine free for 10 days after the month-long treatment was completed. She was prescribed a second round of treatments, which were then reduced to weekly for another 4 weeks. The patient reported being migraine-free during the continued treatment period. There was no 90-day follow-up for this patient.

Discussion and Steps Forward

Two of the main factors that may cause episodic migraine attacks to become chronic are medication overuse and improper care for acute attacks.1-3 As demonstrated in the three cases herein, PBM treatments to the SPG were shown to be effective in decreasing pain ratings from 8 out of 10 to 0 out of 10 after each treatment. If PBM could be used effectively to treat episodic migraine, patients may not overuse medications, which may ultimately prevent the transition of episodic to chronic migraine.

Overall, the PBM treatments described herein were deemed successful in treating chronic migraine (see Table I for details). Patient 1 started with two migraine attacks per week and decreased his episodes to zero attacks per week after a course of three treatments over 4 weeks. Patient 2 reduced her migraine frequency from two to three per week to zero after 10 treatments over 12 weeks. Patient 3, who had previously experienced three to five migraine attacks per week for 59 years, reduced her attack frequency to zero migraine attacks per week after 12 treatments over 8 weeks. None of the patients reported any side effects and tolerated the treatments well.

Similar to neurologic blocks of the sphenopalatine ganglion, the response to PBM is bi-phasic, stimulatory or inhibitory, and dose dependent.9 There has been strong evidence supporting PBM inhibition of acute, chronic, and neurological pain.10 As noted, light may reduce the formation of inflammatory proteins associated with pain including prostaglandin, cox 2 mRNA, and TNF α.10 Additionally, PBM works to inhibit nerve conduction along the AΔ and C nerve fibers, which are the main nerve fiber types that conduct pain.10

It appears that the SPG and associated nerves are hyperactive during migraine attacks, as suggested by Khan, et al.4 An inhibitory dose of PBM seems to restore the SPG and associated nerves back to their normal physiological levels. A similar occurrence was reported by Cady, et al,5-6 and Lee, et al,7 after treating migraine (with bupivacaine and lidocaine, respectively) applied to the posterior nasal cavity directed at the SPG. There is some evidence that the SPG may also be associated with refractory chronic post-traumatic headaches.10 For example, Sussman, et al, successfully treated a post-concussion headache utilizing intranasal lidocaine application to the SPG.11

In this case presentation, use of PBM treatment reduced migraine frequency to zero episodes per week in patients with a 10-year or greater history of migraine for whom medication failed to manage symptoms effectively. Due to a decrease in pain and episode occurrence, all three patients were able to improve their daily function following completion of individualized PBM treatment regimen to block the SPG. With a growing demand for non-pharmacological treatments for migraine pain, photobiomodulation may be a noninvasive therapeutic option for chronic migraine. To demonstrate the efficacy of this treatment protocol, large randomized control trials should be completed to confirm validity and long-term effects.

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NOVA Health Recovery | Alexandria, Va 22306 | Call for esketamine and nasal ketamine as well as IV Ketamine for depression, PTSD, anxiety  703-844-0184 < Link

Ketamine Virginia Link

Long known as a party drug, ketamine now used for depression, but concerns remain

A decades-old anesthetic made notorious as a party drug in the 1980s is resurfacing as a potential “game-changing” treatment for severe depression, patients and psychiatrists say, but they remain wary about potential long-term problems.

The Food and Drug Administration earlier this month OKd use of Spravato for patients with depression who have not benefited from other currently available medications. Spravato, the brand name given to the drug esketamine, is a molecule derived from ketamine — known as Special K on the club scene.

Ketamine has been shown in some studies to be useful for treating a wide variety of neurological disorders including depression. Regular, longtime use of it isn’t well understood, psychiatrists say, but the need for a new drug to treat depression is so great that the FDA put Spravato on a fast-track course for approval.

The drug likely will be commercially available in a few weeks, and patients already are requesting it. Restrictions around its use, though — the drug must be administered in a doctor’s office by providers who are certified with the company making it — mean it may be months before it’s widely available, and longer than that before insurers start paying for it.

“I don’t think we know at this point how effective it’s going to be,” said Dr. Craig Nelson, a psychiatrist at the UCSF Depression Center. “There have been a number of studies of ketamine, sometimes showing effects in people who were resistant to other drugs. If we can treat a different group of people, it would be a great advantage.”

Ketamine was developed in the 1960s as a surgical anesthetic for people and animals. The drug can cause hallucinations and a feeling of “dissociation” or unreality, and in the 1980s it took off as a party drug among people seeking those effects. It remained a common anesthetic, though, and in the early 2000s doctors began to notice a connection between ketamine and relief from symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.

Spravato is delivered by nasal spray, which patients give themselves in a doctor’s office. Patients must be monitored while they get the drug and for two hours after to make sure they don’t suffer immediate complications. At the start, patients will get the nasal spray twice a week for four weeks, then taper to regular boosters every few weeks for an indefinite period of time.

Studies of ketamine — and specifically of Spravato — have produced encouraging but inconsistent results. Psychiatrists say that, like most other antidepressants, the drug probably won’t help everyone with difficult-to-treat depression. But there likely will be a subset of patients who get substantial benefits, and that alone may make it an incredible new tool.

About 16 million Americans experience depression every year, and roughly a quarter of them get no benefit from antidepressants on the market. Thought scientists haven’t determined exactly how ketamine works on the brains of people with depression or other mood disorders, it appears to take a different path of attack than any drug already available. That means that people who don’t respond to other antidepressants may find this one works for them.

But a concern among some psychiatrists is that studies have suggested that ketamine may affect the same receptors in the brain that respond to opioids. Ketamine and its derivations may then put patients at risk of addiction — but research so far hasn’t explored that kind of long-term effect.

“There might be some potential problems if you used it too aggressively,” said Dr. Alan Schatzberg, director of the Stanford Mood Disorders Center, who led the research that identified a connection with opioid receptors. “The issue is not so much the short-term use, it’s the repetitive use, and the use over time, as to whether there are going to be untoward consequences.

“It would be hard for me to recommend the use of this drug for chronically depressed people without knowing what the endgame is here,” he added.

Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez, a Stanford psychiatrist who was part of the studies of ketamine and opioid receptors, said she shares Schatzberg’s concerns. But she’s been studying the use of ketamine to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, and for some patients the results have been so remarkable that the benefits may exceed the risks.

“When I gave ketamine to my first patient, I nearly fell off my chair. Somebody said it was like a vacation from their OCD, and I was just, ‘Wow, this is really possible,’” Rodriguez said. “I want to make sure patients have their eyes wide open. I hope (the FDA approval) spurs more research, so we can really inform consumers.”

Though the new nasal spray is the first formal FDA approval of a ketamine-derived drug, psychiatrists have been using the generic anesthetic for years to study its effect on depression and other mood disorders.

In recent years, clinics have opened around the country offering intravenous infusions of ketamine to people with hard-to-treat depression and other problems. These treatments aren’t specifically FDA-approved but are allowed as off-label use of ketamine. The clinics have faced skepticism from some traditional psychiatrists, but there’s a growing ream of anecdotal evidence that the ketamine IVs work — for some people.

Aptos resident Mary, who suffers from depression and other mood disorders and asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy, said the already available antidepressants weren’t keeping her symptoms at bay, and she frequently felt “one step away from the abyss.” When she first heard about ketamine, from a support group for people with depression and other mood disorders, she was hesitant.

“I kind of hemmed and hawed, because I’d heard that K was a street drug,” Mary said. “But then I said, ‘What do I have to lose?’ So I went and did it.”

The results were quick: Within four days, “the cloud had lifted,” she said. More than a year later, she is still feeling good with regular infusions every three or four weeks. During the ketamine infusion, Mary said she’ll feel the dissociation, which she described as feeling like she’s viewing the world around her as though it were a movie and not her own life.

She said she’s pleased the FDA approved Spravato, though she hasn’t decided whether she’ll switch from the IV ketamine to the nasal spray. She hopes that the FDA approval will give some validation to ketamine and encourage others to try it.

Mary gets her infusions at Palo Alto Mind Body, where Dr. M Rameen Ghorieshi started offering ketamine two years ago. He’s certified with the maker of Spravato — Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a branch of Johnson and Johnson — to provide the drug, though he doesn’t know when he’ll actually start giving the nasal spray to patients.

Ghorieshi said that although he’s been offering IV ketamine for more than two years, he shares his colleagues’ wariness of the long-term effects of regular use of the drug. He hopes FDA approval will encourage further research.

“At this point we’ve done 1,000 infusions. The outcomes have exceeded my own expectations,” Ghorieshi said. “But anecdotes are not clinical trials. I approach this very cautiously. What I don’t want is 20 or 30 years from now to look back and say, ‘What did we do?’”

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Call NOVA Health Recovery at 703-844-0184 for a free consultation for a Ketamine infusion. No referral needed. We offer intranasal Ketamine follow up therapy as well. Alexandria, Va 22306.

Call NOVA Health Recovery at 703-844-0184 for a free consultation for a Ketamine infusion. No referral needed. We offer intranasal Ketamine follow up therapy as well. Alexandria, Va 22306.

Ketamine: A Promising Novel Therapy for Anxiety and PTSD

Ketamine was originally approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an anesthetic, but is increasingly being used to treat mood disorders, such as treatment-resistant depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1,2 Several studies have also found it to be effective for treating suicidal ideation.3,4

“Ketamine can play an important role in the treatment of anxiety disorders,” according to Prakash Masand, MD, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Centers of Psychiatric Excellence (COPE) (https://www.copepsychiatry.com) and adjunct professor at the Academic Medicine Education Institute, Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School (Duke-NUS).

“Nowadays, people with anxiety disorders are treated either with a generic antidepressant, such as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), an SNRI (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), or a benzodiazepine and if they don’t respond to one of these, they get a trial of another or several more,” Dr Masand said.

However, between 30% and 40% of these patients will not achieve remission, despite 3 or 4 different traditional agents, and even with evidence-based nonpharmacologic therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or mentalization-based therapy (MBT), he noted.

“No good current strategies are available for these non-responders, so novel agents are being studied — including ketamine, which is accumulating an evidence base as [being] rapidly effective for an array of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder (SAD) and PTSD,” he said.

How Does Ketamine Work?

A growing body of evidence points to the role of glutamate, a widely distributed excitatory neurotransmitter, in mediating response to stress and the formation of traumatic memories.2 Ketamine is an ionotropic glutamatergic N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist. Its antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects are presumed to occur through activating synaptic plasticity by increasing brain-derived neutrophic factor translation and secretion and also by inhibiting glycogen synthase kinase-3 and activating mammalian target of rapamycin signaling.5

Brain-derived neutrophic factor plays a role in behavioral responses to classical antidepressants, but the impact on synaptic plasticity may take several weeks to manifest. In contrast, ketamine-mediated synaptic plasticity changes appear to occur within a matter of hours after ketamine administration.5

“The current thinking is that eventually, 6 to 12 weeks after initiating treatment with traditional antidepressants, dendritic growth and increased synaptic connections occur but with ketamine, these can occur within 24 hours of the infusion,” Dr Masand said.

Ketamine and Anxiety: An Increasing Evidence Base

“Ketamine has been studied and shown [to be] effective with an array of anxiety disorders, including SAD, general anxiety disorder (GAD), and PTSD, although the data on its effectiveness in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are more mixed,” Dr Masand observed.

GAD/SAD

  • A small study of patients with GAD and/or SAD (n=12) compared 3 ascending ketamine doses to midazolam. Each was given at 1-week intervals, with midazolam counterbalanced in dosing position across patients. Ketamine was found to dose-dependently improve scores on the Fear Questionnaire. Moreover, it’s impact on decreasing theta frequency in the right frontal sites assessed via  electroencelphalogram (EEG) was comparable to that of conventional anxiolytics.6
  • Glue et al evaluated the efficacy and safety of ketamine in 12 patients with refractory GAD and/or SAD who were not currently depressed using an ascending single-dose at weekly intervals study design. Within 1 hour of dosing, patients reported reduced anxiety, which persisted for up to 7 days.7
  • A continuation of that study evaluated the impact of maintenance treatment ketamine in patients with GAD and/or SAD (n=20) and found that 18 of the 20 patients reported ongoing improvements in social functioning and/or work functioning during maintenance treatment. The researchers concluded that maintenance therapy ”may be a therapeutic alternative for patients with treatment-refractory GAD/SAD.”8

“What is interesting about this study is that the impact of just one infusion lasted for 14 weeks, suggesting that patient[s] with anxiety disorders might have longer maintenance of response than patients with major depression, where the response has been maintained for only one week,” Dr Masand commented.

Anxious Depression

  • A study of patients with anxious and non-anxious bipolar depression (n=21 for both groups) found that both anxious and non-anxious patients with bipolar depression had significant antidepressant responses to ketamine, although the anxious depressed group did not show a clear antidepressant response disadvantage over the non-anxious group.9 “Given that anxiety has been shown to be a predictor of poor treatment response in bipolar depression when traditional treatments are used, our findings suggest the need for further investigations into ketamine’s novel role in the treatment of anxious bipolar depression.,” the investigators concluded.9

Related Articles

OCD

  • An open-label trial of ketamine in 10 patients with treatment-refractory OCD found that ketamine’s effects on OCD symptoms, in contrast to depressive symptoms, did not seem to persist or progress after the acute effects of ketamine had dissipated.10
  • On the other hand, another randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 15 patients with OCD found that anti-OCD effects from a single intravenous dose of ketamine persisted for more than 1 week in some patients with OCD with constant intrusive thoughts, demonstrating that “a drug affecting glutamate neurotransmission can reduce OCD symptoms without the presence of an [SSRI].”11

PTSD

In PTSD, there is “mounting evidence for a role of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate in stress responsiveness, the formation of traumatic memories, and the pathophysiology of PTSD, raising the possibility of identifying novel glutamatergic interventions for this disorder.”12

  • One double-blind study demonstrated that infusion of ketamine rapidly and significantly reduces symptom severity in patients with  PTSD compared with midazolam.2
  • Another study found that administration of ketamine immediately after witnessing a traumatic event has been shown to prevent the enhancement of passive avoidance learning in mice.13Ketamine may thus target the mechanisms involved in the consolidation of traumatic memory and may enable the brain to reconsolidate memory and release trauma.14
  • A case study of a child with PTSD reported remission from behavioral dysregulation after receiving procedural ketamine.15

Drawbacks and Potential Adverse Effects

The main concern regarding the use of ketamine for anxiety disorders is the lack of a road map regarding maintenance, Dr Masand noted.

“At COPE, we have found that roughly 30% to 40% of our patients being treated with ketamine require maintenance infusions, and we highly personalize this approach so that patients can identify early signs of recurrence or relapse and we can devise a treatment schedule to prevent them,” he said.

Some patients continue treatment with pharmacotherapy, including standard antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or a mood stabilizer such as valproate and some patients become more receptive to psychotherapies such as CBT,” he stated.

However, “there is very little data regarding what happens long-term in this patient population.”

“Most side effects are mild and transient,” Dr Masand reported. “Patients must be monitored because of potential increases in blood pressure and pulse.”

Additional adverse events include nausea or vomiting, which are also mild and transient. Patients may be pre-treated with prophylactic anti-nausea medication, such as ondansetron, to pre-empt these symptoms, he said.

Some patients experience dissociation, or an out-of-body experience, which is also usually transient but seen by some patients as “annoying,” he noted. “Dissociative experiences are sometimes seen as a biomarker for insufficient response and suggest that the dose should be increased.”

Providers should be aware that cystitis and lower urinary tract pathologies (eg, detrusor over-activity) have been reported in long-term ketamine users, but typically only at high doses.16

Ketamine’s psychedelic effects make it a” popular recreational drug.”16 At lower doses, the predominant effects are stimulating, and users experience mild dissociation with hallucinations and a distortion of time and space. However, higher doses can induce more severe, schizophrenia-like symptoms and perceptions.16 Although these effects resolve rapidly, long-term use “can cause more pronounced and persistent neuropsychiatric symptoms. For this reason, ketamine should be “used cautiously with other drugs that alter mood and perception, including alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines and cannabis.”16

Promising Role

“Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression has a robust evidence base and a rapidly-growing evidence base for its use in anxiety disorders,” Dr Masand said.

“Given the gaps in current treatment, this promising agent is occupying a more promising role in treatment of anxiety disorders, such as PTSD. Considering how common PTSD is, ketamine can make an important difference for a large number of people who suffer from this debilitating condition,” he concluded.

First Person Account of Ketamine Therapy: An Interview with Kimberly Palmer

To gain insight into the experience of ketamine treatment in a person with depression and anxiety, Psychiatry Advisor interviewed Kimberly Palmer of Los Angeles, California. Ms Palmer received treatment at the Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles (https://www.ketamineclinics.com). Ms Palmer works as a program manager for a consulting company where she organizes and runs corporate events for small groups.

Psychiatry Advisor: What made you decide to pursue ketamine treatment?

Ms Palmer: I was raised in an abusive home, and as an adult I had severe major depression, as well as anxiety. I was treated with medications, such as antidepressants, but they had many adverse events and they ended up making me feel like a zombie, so I discontinued them. I managed okay for a while, but then I had another major depressive episode.

I was receiving psychotherapy at the time and it was only moderately helpful — not enough to stop the episode. Fortunately, I knew someone who works at a ketamine clinic. She told me how many patients had been helped by ketamine and I was interested, mostly because the adverse events of ketamine seemed mild and are not long-term.

Psychiatry Advisor: What were your experiences during your infusion?

Ms Palmer: I felt incredible during the infusion. The best way I can describe it is by referring to the movie Avatar, specifically the scene in which the protagonist is walking through a jungle at night for the first time and touching all the plants, which light up with pretty colors—very vivid, colorful, and not linear. There was the sensation of being on a sort of roller coaster, riding through different scenes.

At one point, it felt as though my chair was on a cloud. Then suddenly, the chair disappeared and I was floating on the cloud. It was a wonderful experience.

Psychiatry Advisor: How did the ketamine treatment affect you afterwards?

Ms Palmer: After only one treatment, it was as if a switch had flipped in my brain that allowed me to digest things and move beyond my trauma. Before the infusion, a lot of what was going on with me had to do with self-esteem issues and negative self-talk. These were behaviors learned over many years. After the infusion, the negative self-talk immediately disappeared. All of those thoughts — such as telling myself I am not good enough — that were preventing me from working through emotional issues, were resolved. I was able to start looking at things more objectively rather than taking them personally, and not take on responsibility for other people’s emotions and reactions.

I am currently working with a therapist and a life coach to help me feel more comfortable with communication because I was raised not to ask for things and to put up with anything I’m asked to do. As a result, I have developed a much more positive outlook of myself and the world.

Psychiatry Advisor: How many ketamine treatments have you had?

Ms Palmer: Over a 6-month period I had 6 treatments, which were all very helpful. Then, 6 months after the conclusion of this first series of treatments, some new issues came up, so I received 2 more — one regular 60-minute treatment and one extended 90-minute treatment.

Recently, with the holidays coming up, I decided to pre-empt the effect of some stressors and have another treatment. My most recent infusion took place the day after my father passed away. I noticed that during the infusion, I was able to steer myself away from negative thoughts about that issue. Although I cannot control what visions or experiences I might have, I do have some control over the direction of my thoughts and the after-effects have been positive and helpful.

Psychiatry Advisor: Did you have any adverse events from the treatments?

Ms Palmer: I had no negative physical effects. I had one mild bad reaction, when I came to the treatment session in an agitated state because I had gotten into a fight with someone right before. I was sad and crying  by the time I finished the infusion. But I was in a bad headspace before I even walked into the room. And my experience was not scary, only sad.

Psychiatry Advisor: What impact has your treatment had on your day-to-day life?

Ms Palmer: My depression had interrupted my schooling. I was in school for 3 and a half years and then I hit a roadblock. After the treatments, I was able to complete my studies and graduated with a BA in business administration and management.

My job is stressful. I counterbalance the stress with hobbies like surfing and photography. But there are still stressors, and I have a dog who is reaching the end of life, which is affecting me. The ketamine treatments have helped me to manage those stressors. 

References

  1. Sanacora G, Frye MA, McDonald W, et al. A consensus statement on the use of ketamine in the treatment of mood disordersJAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(4):399-405.
  2. Feder A, Parides M, Murrough JW, et al. Efficacy of intravenous ketamine for treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized clinical trialJAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(6):681-688.
  3. Murrough JW, Soleimani L, DeWilde KE, et al. Ketamine for rapid reduction of suicidal ideation: a randomized controlled trialPsychol Med. 2015;45(16):3571-3580.
  4. Wilkinson ST, Ballard ED, Bloch MH, et al. The effect of a single dose of intravenous ketamine on suicidal ideation: a systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysisAm J Psychiatry. 2018;175(2):150-158.
  5. Schwartz J, Murrough JW, Iosifescu DV. Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression: recent developments and clinical applicationsEvid Based Ment Health. 2016;19(2):35-38.
  6. Shadli SM, Kawe T, Martin D, McNaughton N, Neehoff S, Glue P. Ketamine effects on EEG during therapy of treatment-resistant generalized anxiety and social anxiety [published online April 24,2018]. Int J Neuropsychopharmacology. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyy032
  7. Glue P, Medlicott NJ, Harland S, et al. Ketamine’s dose-related effects on anxiety symptoms in patients with treatment refractory anxiety disorders. J Psychopharmacol. 2017;31(10):1302-1305.
  8. Glue P, Neehoff SM, Medlicott NJ, Gray A, Kibby G, McNaughton N. Safety and efficacy of maintenance ketamine treatment in patients with treatment-refractory generalised anxiety and social anxiety disordersJ Psychopharmacol. 2018;32(6):663-667.
  9. Ionescu DF, Luckenbaugh DA, Niciu MJ, Richards EM, Zarate CA. A single infusion of ketamine improves depression scores in patients with anxious bipolar depressionBipolar Disord. 2014;17(4):438-443.
  10. Bloch MH, Wasylink S, Landeros-Weisenberger A, et al. Effects of ketamine in treatment-refractory obsessive-compulsive disorderBiol Psychiatry. 2012;72(11):964-970.
  11. Rodriguez CI, Kegeles LS, Levinson A, et al. Randomized controlled crossover trial of ketamine in obsessive-compulsive disorder: proof-of-concept. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013;38(12):2475-2483.
  12. Girgenti MJ, Ghosal S, LoPresto D, Taylor JR, Duman RS. Ketamine accelerates fear extinction via mTORC1 signalingNeurobiol Dis. 2016;100:1-8.
  13. Ito W, Erisir A, Morozov AObservation of distressed conspecific as a model of emotional trauma generates silent synapses in the prefrontal-amygdala pathway and enhances fear learning, but ketamine abolishes those effects. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015; 40(11):2536-2545.
  14. Fattore L, Piva A, Zanda MT, Fumagalli G, Chiamulera C. Psychedelics and reconsolidation of traumatic and appetitive maladaptive memories: focus on cannabinoids and ketaminePsychopharmacology (Berl). 2018;235(2):433-445.
  15. Donoghue AC, Roback MG, Cullen KR. Remission from behavioral dysregulation in a child with PTSD after receiving procedural ketaminePediatrics. 2015;136(3):e694-e696.
  16. Li L, Vlisides PE. Ketamine: 50 years of modulating the mindFront Hum Neurosci. 2016;10:612.

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A Vaccine for Depression?

Ketamine’s remarkable effect bolsters a new theory of mental illness.

A Vaccine for Depression?

Ketamine’s remarkable effect bolsters a new theory of mental illness.

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One sunny day this fall, I caught a glimpse of the new psychiatry. At a mental hospital near Yale University, a depressed patient was being injected with ketamine. For 40 minutes, the drug flowed into her arm, bound for cells in her brain. If it acts as expected, ketamine will become the first drug to quickly stop suicidal drive, with the potential to save many lives. Other studies of ketamine are evaluating its effect as a vaccination against depression and post-traumatic stress. Between them, the goal is nothing less than to redefine our understanding of mental illness itself.

Depression is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 30 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. But despite half a century of research, ubiquitous advertising, and blockbuster sales, antidepressant drugs just don’t work very well. They treat depression as if it were caused by a chemical imbalance: Pump in more of one key ingredient, or sop up another, and you will have fixed the problem.

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PREPARED: One day, soldiers heading into combat could be treated to reduce the chance of getting PTSD.Co Rentmeester/Getty Images

But the correspondence between these chemicals (like serotonin) and depression is relatively weak. An emerging competitive theory, inspired in part by ketamine’s effectiveness, has it that psychiatric disease is less about chemical imbalance than structural changes in the brain—and that a main cause of these changes is psychological stress. “I really do think stress is to mental illness as cigarettes are to heart disease,” says Gerard Sanacora, the psychiatry professor running the ketamine trial at Yale.

The theory describes stress grinding down individual neurons gradually, as storms do roof shingles. This, in turn, changes the nature of their connections to one another and the structure of the brain. Ketamine, along with some similar molecules, acts to strengthen the neuron against that damage, affecting not just the chemistry of the brain but also its structure.

Mental hospitals don’t usually see patients until they break: a brain shaped by vulnerable genes, wrecked by the stress of loss or trauma. This isn’t how it works with other sicknesses: heart disease, cancer, AIDS. Detected early, these conditions can often be managed. Crises averted.

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If Sanacora and like-minded researchers are right, we may be on the cusp of a sea change that allows for a similar approach to mental health. The new approaches may prevent mental illness before it hits, by delivering a vaccination for the mind.

The need for progress could hardly be more urgent: Of all illnesses, neuropsychiatric diseases are estimated to put the heaviest burden on society. Nearly half of Americans are affected by some sort of mental disorder at some point in life. Suicides, 90 percent of them among the mentally ill, take 40,000 Americans every year—more than murder or car crashes. Since 2005, the suicide rate among U.S. war veterans has nearly doubled; in the first half of 2012, more service members died by suicide than in combat. Few medical failures are more flagrant than psychiatry’s impotence to save these people.

At the same time, treatment can be woefully ineffective. Less than a third of depression patients respond to a drug within 14 weeks, according to the 2006 STAR*D trial, the largest clinical test of antidepressants. After six months and multiple drugs, only half of patients recovered. Thirty-three percent don’t respond to any drug at all. When the pills do work, they are slow—a deadly risk, given that people with mood disorders kill themselves more often than anyone else.

Our treatments work so poorly in part because we don’t really understand what they do. Serotonin, the most common target for current antidepressants, is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries messages in the brain. But it was first found, in 1935, in the gut. Serotonin’s name comes from blood serum, where Cleveland Clinic scientists discovered it in 1948, noting that the chemical helps with clotting.

When Betty Twarog, a 25-year-old Ph.D. student at Harvard, later found serotonin in neurons, she wasn’t taken seriously. At that time, brain signals were thought to be purely electrical impulses that leapt between cells. Twarog called this old idea “sheer intellectual idiocy,” as Gary Greenberg reports in his book Manufacturing Depression. Working at the Cleveland Clinic in 1953, she found serotonin in the brains of rats, dogs, and monkeys.

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K: One obstacle to the therapeutic use of ketamine is its reputation as a recreational drug.Wikipedia

Twarog didn’t know yet what serotonin was doing there, but a clue came soon from D.W. Woolley, a biochemist at Rockefeller University, in New York. In 1954 Woolley pointed out in a paper that lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, is chemically similar to serotonin and is processed similarly in the brain. Since LSD “calls forth in man mental disturbances resembling those of schizophrenia,” he wrote, another drug affecting serotonin might be used to treat schizophrenia. Twarog’s original paper would take years to percolate through the male-dominated field, but her work and Woolley’s would become accepted as evidence of how important chemicals like serotonin could be to brain signaling. The discovery was a breakthrough for neuroscience—but it also birthed a misleading, long-lived belief about mental illness. “The thesis of this paper,” Woolley wrote, “is that … serotonin has an important role to play in mental processes and that the suppression of its action results in a mental disorder. In other words, it is the lack of serotonin which is the cause of the disorder.”

Around the same time, other researchers stumbled on the first antidepressants, iproniazid and imipramine. Intended to treat tuberculosis and schizophrenia, respectively, these drugs also happened to make some patients “inappropriately happy.” Researchers found that the drugs elevated levels of serotonin, along with related neurotransmitters.1 This began a huge search to find chemically similar drugs that worked better as antidepressants.

Drug companies often say mood disorder is caused by a “chemical imbalance.” But the evidence for this story is slim.

Iproniazid was the first of a class of medicines that block an enzyme from breaking down serotonin, as well as dopamine and norepinephrine, two other neurotransmitters. The chief downside of these drugs, called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), is that they require a strict diet: no aged cheeses, wine, beer, or cured meats. Combined with these foods, the drugs can cause deadly spikes in blood pressure, a hassle that often inclines patients to ditch them. (The novelist David Foster Wallace took an MAOI for decades; in part to escape the food restrictions, he got off the drug months before his suicide.) On the other hand, tricyclic antidepressants, like imipramine, work by blocking the re-absorption of serotonin and norepinephrine. The cost is a host of side effects, from dry mouth to weight gain to erectile dysfunction and loss of libido.

The next generation of drugs focused on fine-tuning the same mechanisms, and had somewhat improved side effects. A new class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, arrived in the ’80s, bringing huge commercial successes like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. Since SSRIs are more specifically focused on serotonin, they were heralded as cleaner options; but they are not much more effective at lifting mood than the older drugs. We often take for granted the diabetes analogy for depression: If you are depressed, it is because you need serotonin, just as a diabetic person needs insulin. Drug companies often say that mood disorder is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in serotonin or a signal like it. One ad for Zoloft, the blockbuster antidepressant, featured a sad white circle crawling cutely beneath a gray cloud; the voice-over boasted that depression may be “related to an imbalance of natural chemicals in the brain. Zoloft works to correct this imbalance.”

But the evidence for this story is slim. Prozac raises serotonin levels within hours yet doesn’t change mood for weeks. When scientists deplete serotonin in healthy people, it does not make them sad. And when doctors measure serotonin levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of depressed people, they do not find a consistent deficiency; one 2008 study even found increased levels of serotonin in depressed people’s brains. The drug tianeptine, discovered in the late ‘80s, decreases serotonin levels yet relieves depression. And studies have shown that people falling in love show lower, not higher, levels of serotonin.

Serotonin is clearly not just a feel-good chemical. If a serotonin-based drug like Zoloft makes you happier, it works in some other, indirect way. As psychiatrist Ronald Pies, editor of Psychiatric Times, put it in 2011, “The ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”

Meanwhile, as serotonin falls far short of explaining depression, a more likely candidate is emerging.

Stress in moderation is not harmful, but motivating. Cortisol, a stress hormone, cycles daily; synchronizing with sunlight, it helps arouse us for the day. In health, the hormone spikes when we need to pay attention: a test, a job interview, a date. Studies on rodents and humans confirm that brief, mild increases in stress are good for the brain, particularly for memory. During these spikes, neurons are born and expand in the hippocampus, the seahorse-shaped finger of tissue responsible for forming new memories and understanding three-dimensional space, and rodents learn better. The student who gets stressed while studying is more alert and remembers more than the one who feels no urgency—up to a point. The problem comes when stress is either too intense at one moment, as in a rape or violent attack, or too sustained, as in long-term poverty, neglect, or abuse.

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ACCENTUATING THE NEGATIVE …: Under prolonged stress, neurons in the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, expand like overgrown shrubbery and become hyperactive.Image from “Nature Reviews Neuroscience”*

Stress changes brain architecture differently, depending on how long it lasts. After chronic stress, like childhood trauma, the effect of hormones on brain cells inverts: Neurons in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for mood and impulse control, start to shrink, while those in the amygdala, the almond-shaped seat of fear and anxiety, expand like overgrown shrubbery. But people are differently vulnerable, depending on genes and on prior life experience. “If you take two people and subject them to the same stressful event, for one of them it will be harmful and for the other, no,” says Maurizio Popoli, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Milan. “It is because they perceive the stress differently.”

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… AND ELIMINATING THE POSITIVE: In the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, regions responsible for memory, attention, and self-control, chronic stress shrinks the branches of neurons.Image from “Nature Reviews Neuroscience”*

Stress hormones’ most important effect is to flood parts of the brain with glutamate, the brain’s “go” signal. Used by 80 percent of neurons in the cortex, this key neurotransmitter drives mental processes from memory to mood. Glutamate triggers neurons to generate sudden bursts of electricity that release more glutamate, which can in turn trigger electrical bursts in nearby neurons.

This cellular signaling is called excitation and is fundamental to how information is processed in the brain. Like sexual excitability, it ebbs and flows; a “refractory period” follows each neural firing, or spike, during which the neuron cannot be excited. Other neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are called “modulatory,” because they change the sensitivity of neurons that secrete glutamate (among others). Less than 1 percent of neurons in the cortex signal with these modulators. As Popoli puts it, these modulators are “very important for fine-tuning the machine. But the machine itself is an excitatory machine,” driven by glutamate.

Glutamate moves like a ship between neurons. The sea it sails is called the synapse, the shore it departs from is the presynaptic neuron, and the destination, on the synapse’s far side, is the postsynaptic neuron. Another component, called a glial cell, works to remove glutamate ships from the synapse and recycle them. The glutamate system is affected at each of these points by stress hormones: They push the first neuron to send more ships, interfere with the glial cell’s recycling, and block the docks on the distant shore. All of these changes increase the number of glutamate ships left in the synapse, flooding the cell with aberrant signals. Indeed, depressed people’s brains, or at least animal models of depression, show all three of these problems, leading to long-lasting excesses of glutamate in key portions of the brain.

This superabundance of glutamate makes a neuron fire sooner than it should and triggers a cascade of signals inside the cell, damaging its structure. Glutamate binds to the neuron and allows in a flood of positively charged particles, including calcium, which are vital to making a neuron fire. But in excess, calcium activates enzymes that break down the neuron. Each neuron has tree-like branches, called dendrites, which are used to communicate with other neurons. When overdosed in glutamate, this canopy of branches shrinks, like a plant doused with herbicide. First the “twigs,” called spines, disappear. After prolonged stress, whole branches recede.

This harmful process, called excitotoxicity, is thought to be involved in bipolar disorder, depression, epilepsy, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s. In depressed brains, many areas are shrunken and underactive, including part of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. The brain changes that cause mood disorders, Sanacora and his colleagues believe, come in part from chronic stress overexciting neurons with glutamate.

Ketamine works faster than any other drug, and for up to 65 percent of patients who don’t respond to existing treatments.

We usually think of our brains’ adaptability as a good thing. Just as neurons grow during development, the wiring in the adult brain can change. After strokes or other brain injuries, neural signals re-route themselves around damage, allowing even very old people to re-learn lost skills. Psychotherapy and meditation can change patterns of brain activity in ways that persist after treatment.2

But the neuroplasticity hypothesis of mental disorder highlights the drawback of such neural liberalism: The human brain’s flexibility allows regeneration, but also renders it vulnerable to being altered by stress. Subjected to the trauma of war, a bad breakup, or a bout of homelessness, a person with a genetic predisposition may find his mind stuck in a loop of chronic fear or depression.

The mood drugs in wide use now focus on modulatory neurotransmitters like serotonin. Ketamine, however, works directly on glutamate signaling. If ketamine is tapping into the root of the problem, this might explain why it works faster, better, and more often than more popular antidepressants.

Not everybody accepts the idea that glutamate and stress are central to depression. Some experts see the effects of stress as downstream effects, not the root cause of mood disorder. “The mechanism of action of a good treatment does not have to be the inverse of a disease mechanism,” says Eric Nestler, an expert on addiction and depression at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Serotonin drugs and ketamine may affect depression indirectly, without a serotonin or glutamate abnormality at the root of depression. Nestler also points out that depression probably includes a diversity of subtypes, without any single cause. He treats depression not as a unified disease, but a constellation of symptoms, each with discrete neural roots.

Even so, we do know that ketamine works faster than any other drug, and for up to 65 percent of patients who don’t respond to existing treatments.

If ketamine turns out to be a psychiatric savior, it will be one with a surprising history. Since 1962 it has been a go-to anesthetic for children in emergency rooms, because it kills pain, muffles consciousness, and rarely causes breathing or heart problems. Children given ketamine enter “a trance like state of sensory isolation” free of pain, memory, and awareness, as one review put it. Emergency room doctors rely on ketamine to make sure kids have no awareness or memory of, say, the trauma of having a shattered arm set back into place.

On the other hand, ketamine is a well-known recreational drug with potential for abuse. The dissociative trip caused by a moderate dose of ketamine has made it popular in clubs and raves since the 1970s, especially in Asian cities like Hong Kong. Its sedative effect made “special K” a date-rape drug. Doctors, patients, and the government agencies that fund research are often suspicious of a drug known to cause hallucinations, as they have been of psychedelics like psilocybin and ecstasy, despite their potential for treating depression or anxiety. Each tends to show fast results after a single dose, like ketamine.

In 1999, the same year ketamine was declared a controlled substance in the United States, Yale researchers happened upon its antidepressant power. A team co-led by Dennis Charney, now dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, in Manhattan, and John Krystal, now chair of the department of psychiatry at Yale, used ketamine to study glutamate: Since ketamine was known to block glutamate receptors, it might show what role the excitatory neurotransmitter plays in the depressed brain. To their surprise, they found that the drug made patients feel better, often within hours. A single dose, much smaller than what’s used for anesthesia, tended to last for weeks.

Since 1999, a dozen studies have replicated the results, often on patients who failed to respond to other drugs. Ketamine also works for bipolar people in depressive phases, without triggering mania, as classic antidepressants sometimes do. The majority of depressed people studied have responded to ketamine. For patients who are often suicidal, this fast response can be lifesaving. Some 50 doctors in the U.S. now offer ketamine infusions for depression.

The first evidence in humans that ketamine might work to prevent mood disorder came from the battlefield.

Many leaders in the field see the emergence of ketamine, and future fast antidepressants based on glutamate, as a great leap forward for the field. “In my mind,” Sanacora told NPR recently, “it is the most exciting development in mood-disorder treatment in the last 50 years.”

Ketamine and the old antidepressants both result in fuller neural “trees,” but by different routes, at different speeds. Prozac and other serotonin-based drugs take four to six weeks to kick in. A landmark 2003 Science study by Columbia University’s René Hen and Ronald Duman, now at Yale, found that serotonin-based antidepressants only work if they spur birth of new neurons in the hippocampus.3 These new neurons take four to six weeks to mature, roughly the same amount of time that conventional antidepressants take to lift a depressed person’s spirits. A 2010 paper argued that SSRIs like Prozac may work by dampening glutamate release in response to stress. So even old-school antidepressants, when they work, may act on the glutamate system.

Ketamine, on the other hand, seems to act directly on mature neurons, fertilizing them to grow branches more robustly, or protecting them against damage. Ketamine’s key effect is to block glutamate receptors of one type. This causes less calcium to flow into the neuron, reducing the risk of the neuron shrinking or self-destructing.

Today ketamine is offered by psychiatrists and anesthesiologists, at prices ranging from $300 to $1,000 per dose, for people who are morbidly depressed or have chronic pain. Insurance doesn’t usually cover the cost of an infusion, because even though it is FDA approved as an anesthetic, it has not been approved as an antidepressant. Each new use of a drug requires multiphase clinical trials for FDA approval, usually funded by pharmaceutical companies, which have little incentive to invest in a drug they can’t monetize. Ketamine got its original patent in 1966, and that expired long ago. So even if drug companies steered ketamine through the expensive approval process as an antidepressant, doctors could still prescribe the cheap, generic versions already available for anesthesia instead of pricier, patented versions intended for depression. This is an old story. Lithium carbonate, which also acts on glutamate receptors, is still one of the most reliable drugs for treating bipolar disorder. But lithium, which is an element, can’t be patented. So, despite their effectiveness, these generic pills do not attract many corporate dollars.

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One tough truth about mood disorder is that not all forms may ever be curable. Brain-imaging studies have shown structural differences between the white matter in healthy versus bipolar brains. Differences in personality and sleep patterns also persist in bipolar people, even between manic or depressed episodes. The structural changes likely have genetic roots, and once they arise, are difficult or impossible to reverse.

Nevertheless, if a drug prevents a mood disorder from manifesting, it might prevent harmful anatomical changes from ever taking place. Just as a vaccine triggers the body to arm itself against a particular virus, a drug like ketamine, given before the crisis that triggers a breakdown, might protect the brain against the effects of stress. Like a vaccine, the drug might only need to be given once for lasting resilience.

The first evidence in humans that ketamine might work to prevent mood disorder, not just treat it, came from the battlefield. U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq were treated with various anesthetics, including ketamine. Since ketamine can cause hallucinations, surgeons worried that it might make trauma worse: Scary combat-related hallucinations could put soldiers at higher risk of mental illness.

But they found the opposite. Out of 25,000 service members wounded in Iraq between 2002 and 2007, the data showed, veterans treated with ketamine for burns had lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. Among civilians and soldiers hospitalized for burns, as many as 45 percent end up with PTSD. But soldiers treated with ketamine on the battlefield got PTSD about half as often—even though they had more severe burns requiring more surgeries and longer hospital stays.

Mental hospitals don’t usually see patients until they break: This isn’t how it works with other sicknesses.

Rebecca Brachman, a neuroscientist and recent doctoral graduate from Columbia University, and her supervisor, Christine Denny, tried giving ketamine to mice and then exposing them to stressors.4 The researchers tested several types of stress, including one in which subject mice are “bullied” by more aggressive mice for two weeks. After this daily hazing, mice ordinarily develop the rodent equivalent of PTSD and depression: freezing in a new space, refusing to interact with other mice, and not moving in a forced swim test. But the mice “vaccinated” before the bullying fared far better: They didn’t act depressed afterward. Brachman and Denny found that the protection from a single dose lasted for weeks, even though ketamine only stays in the body for a few hours. Though they haven’t tested it yet, it is possible that, like a vaccine, this protection could last for much longer. Their rodent research suggests ketamine may work even better as a prophylactic than as an antidepressant.

Denny says that we may eventually routinely use ketamine to prevent PTSD in combat veterans, rape victims, or survivors of car crashes or mass shootings. Ketamine seems to be most strongly protective in mice when given before stressful events, Brachman says. Since we can’t predict most traumatic life events, this would limit the drug’s utility. But if injected after a trauma yet before the psychological damage sets in—as with the burned soldiers—ketamine may still be protective. Denny is investigating this possibility now.

And in some situations, violent shock is predictable. “You don’t know when an earthquake will happen,” Brachman says, “but we do know when we’re about to send U.N. workers into an area devastated by a disaster.” When people know they are going into an acutely traumatic situation, she imagines, a preventive drug given ahead of time might protect their brains from the long-lasting effects of stress. Think of earthquake aid workers, fire fighters, or rescue workers in Syria, dragging mangled people from rubble.

The idea that a single injection could prevent mood disorders is a radical departure from current psychiatric thinking. But there are some precedents: Talk therapy and mindfulness meditation have long focused on building resilience to stress. Bipolar patients take “neuroprotective” drugs like lithium not to treat current symptoms, but as a protection against future breakdowns, for instance.

Not everyone is confident that ketamine is a safe bet, to be sure. Ketamine’s long-term safety is not known, says Nestler. No lasting ill effects are seen in anesthesia patients, who take much larger doses, but they haven’t received routine treatments, the way it is administered as an antidepressant.

Plus, ketamine’s reputation as a street drug is tough to shake. Many doctors consider the hallucinogenic an unacceptable risk for patients, who they fear may develop a taste for the high. Yale’s Sanacora points out that patients in his trial, who are screened for drug or alcohol abuse, often find the trip feeling unpleasant or disturbing. The psychedelic experience is surreal, he points out, not the mellowing pleasure of a drug like alcohol, Xanax, or heroin. Extreme ketamine trips, referred to as falling in a “K-hole,” are often compared to near-death or unsettling out-of-body experiences; they hardly sound like fun to most people.

But since the antidepressant dose is far lower than the one taken to get high, many patients don’t even notice. Drug companies are also competing to develop a less trippy alternative. Johnson & Johnson is testing a nasal spray form of esketamine, a version of ketamine with less psychoactive impact. A company called Naurex has finished phase II trials of Rapastinel, an injected drug that partially blocks the same glutamate receptors as ketamine, but is not psychedelic.

The ketamine pioneers emphasize that their prevention research is the beginning of a new road, raising hopes, rather than offering an immediate cure. Brachman and Denny stress that ketamine may not be the drug that ultimately makes it into widespread use; like the anti-tubercular drugs in the 1950s that spawned the antidepressant era, it is the first to trail-blaze this new class of psychiatric prophylactics. “What this work shows us is that we can intervene beforehand and create some sort of self-reinforcing stress resilience,” Brachman says. “We didn’t know that before; that’s what’s important. Everything else—should we use it, how should we use it—that all comes later.”

Taylor Beck is a journalist based in Brooklyn. Before writing, he worked in brain imaging labs studying memory, aging, and dreams.

References

1. Maxwell, R.A. & Eckhardt, S.B. Drug Discovery Humana Press, New York, NY (1990).

2. Kennedy, S.H., et al. Differences in brain glucose metabolism between responders to CBT and venlafaxine in a 16-week randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Psychiatry 164, 778-788 (2007).

3. Vogel, G. Depression drugs’ powers may rest on new neurons. Science 301, 757 (2003).

4. Brachman, R.A., et al. Ketamine as a prophylactic against stress-induced depressive-like behavior.Biological Psychiatry (2015). Retrieved from DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.04.022

*Images reprinted from Popoli, M., Yan, Z., McEwen, B., & Sanacora, G. The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 13, 22-37 (2011).

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VA uses ketamine to treat PTSD effectively

The San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center is administering ketamine to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Tobias Marton, the director of the ketamine infusion program at the center, said that since the program first launched two years ago, they have treated about 40 patients who had virtually exhausted all other options.

“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do and they remain with very severe symptoms and with a poor or impaired quality of life,” he said. “Despite (past treatments), there remains a high risk of suicide (with some veterans).”

While it was not clear where the 40 patients are from, the option is something that is available to Humboldt County veterans who are suffering from PTSD or depression.

Marton said that in general, about a third of people diagnosed with depression don’t respond to first, second and third lines of treatment.

In contrast, ketamine infusion has yielded “impressive outcomes.”

Many people know of ketamine as a party drug, often referred to as Special K, but it is mainly used medically for anesthesia or pain treatment.

Miracle of medicine

“We know ketamine has rapid and powerful anti-suicide properties,” he said. “To have another tool, a potentially powerful tool to have an impact on suicide rates is really exciting.”

While Marton is proceeding with “cautious optimism,” Boris Nikolov, the CEO of Neurosciences Medical Clinic in Miami, Florida, which has a ketamine clinic, believes the application might be a medical breakthrough.

It’s one of the greatest discoveries in the field of depression,” he said. “This is one of the miracles in medicine.

Nikolov’s clinic has treated 120 patients with ketamine, including his wife who has PTSD as a result of severe child abuse.

“Ketamine really helped her,” he said. “That was a really big part of her recovery.”

Nikolov said most medicines that treat depression take from two to four weeks to start working. Ketamine begins working within hours after it is administered, a process which usually involves an IV infusion over the course of about an hour.

“What’s most important is the strong and fast effect of ketamine in patients who are very seriously depressed, or want to hurt themselves,” he said. “When they finish treatment, they’re totally different people. There is no other medication that does that.”

Brad Burge, the director of strategic communication at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, said there has been “an explosion of treatment that’s outpaced research.”

“It means that people are going to have another option, an alternative to conventional medications,” he said.

According to Burge, MAPS believes the best form of ketamine infusion involves pairing with other forms of psychotherapy such as group or individual counseling.

Ketamine availability

While ketamine is an FDA-approved drug which has been used as an anesthetic as well as a pain reliever, it isn’t officially sanctioned by the FDA to be used for treating mental health disorders. However, Marton said that ketamine has been administered in this fashion for over 18 years now.

A company is currently in the process of trying to get an intranasal product approved by the FDA which would administer ketamine through the nasal passage, according to Marton. He expects the FDA’s decision to be announced sometime around March 2019.

If the product is approved, he said, VA clinics in rural communities like the one in Eureka would likely be able to start offering ketamine treatments as well.

For now, only the location in San Francisco is able to offer the treatment, but Marton said anyone within their service realm, which includes Humboldt County, is invited to consult with the VA about seeking treatment.

“We want to be as thoughtful as we can,” he said. “As we understand more about it … (we) might be able to start helping people who we haven’t been able to help despite throwing everything we have at them.”

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Learn How Ketamine Can Treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ICD 10

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Learn How Ketamine Can Treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

For decades, ketamine has been used as a medicinal intervention for treating depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While most ketamine advocates recognize its therapeutic potential for treating depression, the many benefits available to those suffering from PTSD are less understood.

Do you or a loved one suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder? If so, ketamine infusion therapy may be able to help alleviate your symptoms and provide the relief you need. However, public knowledge about medicinal ketamine is lacking. In this article, we go over everything there is to know about ketamine for treating PTSD.

PTSD 101: What You Need to Know

Post-traumatic stress disorder has a medical diagnostic code of ICD-10, which is the code used for reimbursing treatment through your insurance provider. PTSD, unlike other mental illnesses, is characterized by its triggering from a single or series of traumatic events. This explains why PTSD is common among military veterans and first responders.

According to a summary article from Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying experience. The sufferer subsequently experiences flashbacks, night terrors, and anxiety attacks that they cannot control as a result of the event. It takes a significant amount of time, therapy, and self-care to overcome the trauma of PTSD.

There is no known cure for PTSD. However, many experimental medicinal interventions are breaking ground when it comes to finding a cure. For example, the psychoactive drugs MDMA and ketamine have both been studied for their potential to alleviate the negative effects of PTSD.

Ketamine Infusion Therapy

Since the early 2000s, ketamine has gained popularity among medical providers for its application in infusion therapies. In recent years, clinics all around the world have embraced the healing power of ketamine by offering ketamine infusion therapy. This unique therapy involves one or more intravenous injections of ketamine under the supervision of an anesthesiologist.

What Is Ketamine?

Although ketamine has garnered a reputation as a party drug, its primary value is in its ability to provide fast-acting and potent relief for those with chronic pain issues. Ketamine was first synthesized in the 1960s and was later adopted as an anesthetic in veterinary medicine by the end of the decade. However, use in humans was initially sparse.

Ketamine is both an analgesic and anesthetic drug, which means its primary quality is to reduce or prevent pain. This makes ketamine highly effective for treating major depressive disorder, chronic back pain, and PTSD.

Ketamine and PTSD

Ketamine-infusion-clinics-across-mi

Ketamine infusion clinics across the United States are now offering specialty treatments for those suffering from PTSD. For example, the renowned Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles has treated hundreds of PTSD patients over the years. Led by Dr. Steven Mandel, M.D., the team at Ketamine Clinics of LA has a proven track record of helping relieve the pain of PTSD.

An increasing amount of scientific research has proven that ketamine is effective in treating PTSD. Most notably, a breakthrough 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry discovered that a single intravenous subanesthetic dose of ketamine resulted in “significant and rapid reduction in PTSD symptom severity.”

Over the past few years, many articles and news reports have heralded ketamine as a potential wonder drug for treating PTSD. A recent article published by Medscape discussed how a team of researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City used ketamine to fight depressive symptoms in patients with PTSD and severe depression.

Is Ketamine Safe for PTSD?

There is no doubt that ketamine is a novel treatment for many PTSD sufferers. Since it is a relatively new medicinal intervention, there is some skepticism within the medical community regarding whether it is safe for human use. However, many of these doubts have been quelled over the years thanks to numerous studies and experiences that have proven its safety.

The most compelling evidence suggesting that ketamine infusion is safe in humans comes from a 2014 clinical study. This study managed to safely administer low doses of ketamine to treat neuropathic pain states in adults. Over the two-week monitoring period, the patients exhibited numerous benefits while experiencing only marginal or negligible side effects.

It should be noted that ketamine is not safe if taken recreationally. Since its inception, ketamine has gained a reputation as a party drug for its ability to induce dissociative states and euphoria. However, ketamine is not safe to use unless administered by a licensed physician. It is possible to overdose on ketamine, and the side effects of using high doses of ketamine can be fatal.

Ketamine: A PTSD Prevention Tool?

Interestingly, ketamine has found success as a tool for preventing the onset of PTSD. In one case, a research team gave a family of mice a low dose of ketamine before exposing them to electric shocks. Usually, mice exhibit symptoms of PTSD after being exposed to such a severe stressor. However, the mice that were given ketamine did not exhibit these symptoms at all.

Typically, traumatized mice freeze up when they are placed back in the cage in which they were shocked. In this case, the mice who were sedated with ketamine did not freeze when placed in the cage or froze for a significantly reduced duration. This led the research team to believe that ketamine may have value in both preventing and treating PTSD in humans.

Is Ketamine Right for You?

Ketamine may be an appropriate treatment option for you if you have treatment-resistant PTSD. In other words, you must first be diagnosed with PTSD and have sought the traditional frontline treatments for the condition before considering ketamine infusion therapy. We recommend speaking with your doctor about your PTSD symptoms and the appropriate therapies available to you. Usually, SSRIs or benzodiazepine pharmaceutical drugs, in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the first method of treatment. However, if you do not respond well to this treatment option you should consider seeking ketamine therapy.

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New Drug Combo Shows Promise for Treatment of Depression and Addiction

Drug Combo Shows Promise for Depression and Addiction
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The combination of naltrexone and ketamine can help treat both symptoms of addiction and depression, a preliminary study by Yale University researchers suggests.

Substance abuse and depression are common in many patients, and efforts to treat both conditions simultaneously have had limited success. One recent study suggested that the antidepressant effects of ketamine might blunted by administration of naltrexone, used to limit cravings of those addicted to opioid drugs and alcohol.

A preliminary study of five patients suffering from both depression and substance abuse disorders suggest that isn’t the case. The study was published Jan. 9 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The results “raise the possibility that for people who have depression complicated by substance abuse disorders, the combination of ketamine and naltrexone may be a strategy to explore in the effort to optimally treat both conditions,” said senior author John Krystal, Yale’s Robert L. McNeil Jr. Professor of Translational Research; professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, and psychology; and chair of the Department of Psychiatry.

Krystal and lead author Gihyun Yoon, assistant professor of psychiatry, treated the five patients suffering from depression and alcohol use disorder with a long-lasting form of naltrexone and then administered ketamine. Four of the five responded to the first ketamine dose and all five found relief from depression after multiple doses.

The study also challenges the idea that ketamine might produce antidepressant effects by stimulating opiate receptors.

Krystal cautioned that larger studies are needed to confirm beneficial effects of the combination treatment.

Krystal and Yoon have provisional patents on the use of ketamine and naltrexone to treat comorbid depression and substance abuse.

The study was primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Publication: Gihyun Yoon, et al., “Association of Combined Naltrexone and Ketamine With Depressive Symptoms in a Case series of Patients With Depression and Alcohol Use Disorder,” JAMA Psychiatry, 2019; doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.3990

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The Effects of Intranasal Ketamine on Treatment-Resistant Depression

As I have previously reported, off-label use of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression has resulted in numerous anecdotal reports regarding its unique mechanism of action and overwhelming success in symptom reduction among treatment-resistant and suicidal patients.

This is an important finding because approximately one-third of patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) do not respond to currently available antidepressants. As a result, The American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2016) had issued guidelines for psychiatrists who wish to use ketamine for this purpose. At the time, a slow intravenous infusion was the primary delivery system used to attain the reported results. There are of course numerous challenges and costs associated with this delivery system, including the use of a clinical facility with available advanced life support systems in place.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine was developed and FDA approved more than 50 years ago as a fast-acting anesthetic with an impressive safety profile. It is still used today in anesthesiology on both pediatric and adult patients and animals. Ketamine in higher doses also has unique dissociative properties, which explains its popularity as a club drug known as “Special K” in the U.S. It is currently a highly abused club drug in southern Asia today.

Intranasal Ketamine Clinical Trial

In this well-designed original research conducted by Daly and colleagues, a phase 2, double-blind, doubly randomized, placebo-controlled study was employed to assess the efficacy, safety and dose-response of intranasal esketamine hydrochloride (ketamine) in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD). The primary positive endpoint was a statistically significant change from baseline to day eight during each study period, measured by the total score on the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS).

This study consisted of four phases:

  1. Screening
  2. Double-blind treatment (days 1-15), composed of two 1-week periods
  3. Optional open-label treatment (days 15-74)
  4. Post-treatment follow-up at 8 weeks

The results are impressive. Change in MADRS total score in all three esketamine groups was superior to placebo (esketamine 28 mg: −4.2 (2.09), P = .02; 56 mg: −6.3 (2.07), P = .001; 84 mg: −9.0 (2.13), P < .001), with a significant ascending dose-response relationship (P < .001). Even more impressive is the continuous reduction of depressive symptoms despite reduced dosing frequency during the open-label phase.

Why Does This Matter?

First, the mortality rate for untreated and undertreated depression is between 15 and 20%. Moreover, depression and suicidality are increasing in the U.S., most notably among children and adolescents. Ketamine is thought to inhibit the N-Methyl-D-Aspartame (NMDA) system, which is unrelated to our 50-year-old catecholamine hypothesis, suggesting that the inhibition of NDMA is a viable, and perhaps primary, target for future intervention. In addition, there is growing anecdotal data suggesting that ketamine may also be a viable treatment for pain and perhaps even addictive disease.

Second, the results of this important study show that esketamine has a significant effect on symptom reduction among patients with TRD (Montgomery- Asberg Depression Rating Scale) after only one week of twice-weekly administration, which is substantially faster than the SSRIs or SSNRIs. It is also of interest that esketamine is well tolerated with few adverse effects, evidenced by the fact that a mere 5% of participants discontinued treatment during the double-blind phase. In addition, the use of an intranasal delivery system allows lower dosage compared to oral administration by avoiding first-pass hepatic metabolism.

Third, because of its low molecular weight (238 Daltons), esketamine is a good candidate for intranasal delivery because lower molecular weight improves nasal mucosa absorption. This route will get the dose to the brain rapidly, and for reasons that remain unclear, the therapeutic effect remains when using a twice-per-week dosing system.

All this is to say that compared to currently available oral antidepressant medications, which have a poor adherence rate, esketamine should vastly improve treatment adherence. Combined with few reported adverse effects, more people will get well. This is good day to be a neuroscientist.

Reference:
Ella J. Daly, MD; Jaskaran B. Singh, MD; Maggie Fedgchin, PharmD; Kimberly Cooper, MS; Pilar Lim, PhD; Richard C. Shelton, MD; Michael E. Thase, MD; Andrew Winokur, MD, PhD; Luc Van Nueten, MD; Husseini Manji, MD, FRCPC; Wayne C. Drevets, MD Efficacy and Safety of Intranasal Esketamine Adjunctive to Oral Antidepressant Therapy in Treatment-Resistant Depression. A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.3739. Published online December 27, 2017.

Additional resource for Gambling disorders. Financial costs for loss from this disorder as for any addiction add up quickly. Here is a link to a resource:

Financial strategies for loved ones of problem gamblers

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Trippy depression treatment? Hopes and hype for ketamine

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Lauren Pestikas sits as she receives an infusion of the drug ketamine during a 45-minute session at an outpatient clinic in Chicago on July 25, 2018. Pestikas struggled with depression and anxiety and made several suicide attempts before starting ketamine treatments earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

CHICAGO (AP) — It was launched decades ago as an anesthetic for animals and people, became a potent battlefield pain reliever in Vietnam and morphed into the trippy club drug Special K.

Now the chameleon drug ketamine is finding new life as an unapproved treatment for depression and suicidal behavior. Clinics have opened around the United States promising instant relief with their “unique” doses of ketamine in IVs, sprays or pills. And desperate patients are shelling out thousands of dollars for treatment often not covered by health insurance, with scant evidence on long-term benefits and risks.

Chicago preschool teacher Lauren Pestikas long struggled with depression and anxiety and made several suicide attempts before trying ketamine earlier this year.

The price tag so far is about $3,000, but “it’s worth every dime and penny,” said the 36-year-old.

Pestikas said she feels much better for a few weeks after each treatment, but the effects wear off and she scrambles to find a way to pay for another one.

For now, ketamine has not received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating depression, though doctors can use it for that purpose.

Some studies show ketamine can provide relief within hours for tough-to-treat depression and suicidal behavior and clinics promising unproven benefits have popped up nationwide. But more research is needed to know long-term benefits and risks. (Oct. 31)

Ketamine has been around since the 1960s and is widely used as an anesthesia drug during surgery because it doesn’t suppress breathing. Compared to opioids such as morphine, ketamine isn’t as addictive and doesn’t cause breathing problems. And some studies have shown that ketamine can ease symptoms within hours for the toughest cases.

Its potential effects on depression were discovered in animal experiments in the late 1980s and early 1990s showing that glutamate, a brain chemical messenger, might play a role in depression, and that drugs including ketamine that target the glutamate pathway might work as antidepressants.

Conventional antidepressants like Prozac target serotonin, a different chemical messenger, and typically take weeks to months to kick in — a lag that can cause severely depressed patients to sink deeper into despair.

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A vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, on display in Chicago on July 25, 2018. AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Ketamine’s potential for almost immediate if temporary relief is what makes it so exciting, said Dr. Jennifer Vande Voort, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist who has used ketamine to treat depression patients since February.

“We don’t have a lot of things that provide that kind of effect. What I worry about is that it gets so hyped up,” she said.

The strongest studies suggest it’s most useful and generally safe in providing short-term help for patients who have not benefited from antidepressants. That amounts to about one-third of the roughly 300 million people with depression worldwide.

“It truly has revolutionized the field,” changing scientists’ views on how depression affects the brain and showing that rapid relief is possible, said Yale University psychiatrist Dr. Gerard Sanacora, who has done research for or consulted with companies seeking to develop ketamine-based drugs.

But to become standard depression treatment, he said, much more needs to be known.

Last year, Sanacora co-authored an American Psychiatric Association task force review of ketamine treatment for mood disorders that noted the benefits but said “major gaps” remain in knowledge about long-term effectiveness and safety. Most studies have been small, done in research settings and not in the real world.

When delivered through an IV, ketamine can cause a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure that could be dangerous for some patients. Ketamine also can cause hallucinations that some patients find scary.

“There are some very real concerns,” Sanacora said. “We do know this drug can be abused, so we have to be very careful about how this is developed.”

Dr. Rahul Khare, an emergency medicine specialist in Chicago, first learned about ketamine’s other potential benefits a decade ago from a depressed and anxious patient he was preparing to sedate to fix a repeat dislocated shoulder.

“He said, ‘Doc, give me what I got last time. For about three weeks after I got it I felt so much better,’” Khare recalled.

Khare became intrigued and earlier this year began offering ketamine for severe depression at an outpatient clinic he opened a few years ago. He also joined the American Society for Ketamine Physicians, formed a year ago representing about 140 U.S. doctors, nurses, psychologists and others using ketamine for depression or other nonapproved uses.

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Dr. Rahul Khare poses for a portrait at his outpatient Chicago clinic on July 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

There are about 150 U.S. ketamine clinics, compared with about 20 three years ago, said society co-founder Dr. Megan Oxley.

Khare said the burgeoning field “is like a new frontier” where doctors gather at meetings and compare notes. He has treated about 50 patients with depression including Pestikas. They’re typically desperate for relief after failing to respond to other antidepressants. Some have lost jobs and relationships because of severe depression, and most find that ketamine allows them to function, Khare said.

Typical treatment at his clinic involves six 45-minute sessions over about two weeks, costing $550 each. Some insurers will pay about half of that, covering Khare’s office visit cost. Patients can receive “booster” treatments. They must sign a four-page consent form that says benefits may not be long-lasting, lists potential side effects, and in bold letters states that the treatment is not government-approved.

At a recent session, Pestikas’s seventh, she leaned back on a reclining white examining-room chair as a nurse hooked her up to a heart and blood pressure monitor. She grimaced as a needle was slipped into the top of her left palm. Khare reached up with a syringe to inject a small dose of ketamine into an IV bag hanging above the chair, then dimmed the lights, pulled the window curtains and asked if she had questions and was feeling OK.

“No questions, just grateful,” Pestikas replied, smiling.

Pestikas listened to music on her iPhone and watched psychedelic videos. She said it was like “a controlled acid trip” with pleasant hallucinations. The trip ends soon after the IV is removed, but Pestikas said she feels calm and relaxed the rest of the day, and that the mood boost can last weeks.

Studies suggest that a single IV dose of ketamine far smaller than used for sedation or partying can help many patients gain relief within about four hours and lasting nearly a week or so.

Exactly how ketamine works is unclear, but one idea is that by elevating glutamate levels, ketamine helps nerve cells re-establish connections that were disabled by depression, said ketamine expert Dr. Carlos Zarate, chief of experimental therapies at the National Institute of Mental Health.

A small Stanford University study published in August suggested that ketamine may help relieve depression by activating the brain’s opioid receptors.

Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Allergan are among drug companies developing ketamine-like drugs for depression. Janssen leads the effort with its nasal spray esketamine. The company filed a new drug application in September.

Meanwhile, dozens of studies are underway seeking to answer some of the unknowns about ketamine including whether repeat IV treatments work better for depression and if there’s a way to zero in on which patients are most likely to benefit.

Until there are answers, Zarate of the mental health institute said ketamine should be a last-resort treatment for depression after other methods have failed.

 

Ketamine in the News October 2018

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Old Club Drug Is Repurposed Into Depression Treatment

A North Texas woman said a popular club drug and animal tranquilizer saved her from a life of depression and suicidal thoughts.

You may have heard of the drug before, as Special K on the street. it was designed as a horse tranquilizer, but Ketamine is gaining popularity as a treatment for depression.

Some doctors believe the controversial drug will become a game-changer in slowing the nation’s suicide epidemic.

Tiffany McCombie, a 40-year-old mother of one, knows what depression feels like in its darkest moments.

“I definitely was feeling what I would consider suicidal, not really wanting to live, not really wanting to die, just numb. That’s not a healthy place for me,” McCombie said.

She said she has lived with depression and Bipolar disorder for 30 years, has tried dozens of medications and supplements to combat it, but nothing, she said, has worked as well as the Ketamine infusions she gets at Rise Wellness Center.

She’s had six of them in ten months.”I had the right attitude and wanted to be healed and believing that it was going to happen for me and my brain. It happened. It cut down the mood stabilizers and antidepressants I had been on for years. I don’t take them at all,” she said.

More studies,like this one, are finding that Ketamine may be more effective and work faster than traditional antidepressants.

A local team of anesthesiologists had used the drug before, as an anaesthetic inside the operating room, but after seeing its potential to treat depression, they opened Rise Wellness Center, which specializes in Ketamine infusions.

“We get people that are so far down and so dark that we need this to get them out, to get them up, to get them moving. No drug does that like Ketamine,” said Dr.  Renaud Rodrigue, a pain management physician at Rise Wellness Center.

Experts say Ketamine can be dangerous, even deadly, if abused or taken in large doses.

Even though it’s not FDA-approved to treat depression, Dr. Rodrigue said, when given in small doses and in a clinical setting, 90 percent of his patients with severe depression reported long-term benefits.

Researchers at the University of Illinois published this study about how Ketamine may trigger a depression-fighting protein in the brain.

“This protein changed the game for us. We know now there’s something that is created just by the drug itself, which is staying in the central nervous system and is exerting this affect way beyond the duration of the drug,” said Dr. Rodrigue.

McCombie said Ketamine saved her life.

Could Ketamine conquer Treatment resistant depression?

A notorious drug that can cause dangerous hallucinations and even death when abused may be the key to treating severely depressed patients when used under proper physician care. UT Southwestern’s Dr. Lisa Monteggia has uncovered how the drug Ketamine works so rapidly and why patients are seeing success when other treatments have failed.

Transcript

{Video opens with music and pictures of UTSW patient Megan Joyce along with her mother and with her husband.}

Megan Joyce: Everything in my life seems great.

Narrator: Megan Joyce’s life may look picture perfect.

Megan: I graduated college. I got married. He’s an amazing person. He is incredibly supportive.

Narrator: But what these happy photos hide is a relentless inner struggle.

Megan: This is not something that I love to admit, but I fight for my life every single day.

Narrator: The 27-year-old has spent more than a decade battling severe depression. It triggers for no obvious reason.

Megan: They have defined my bipolar illness as treatment resistant.

Narrator: She says she tried every medication in the books … as well as checking into inpatient and outpatient treatment centers. Nothing worked. Until doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center tried something bold. Ketamine infusion therapy.

Megan: I don’t know if I would be here without the Ketamine treatment. I drive from Austin every 10 days, and I come for treatment, and I’m in the hospital for about 5 hours, and then I go home the same day.

Narrator: Several studies show ketamine can quickly stabilize severely depressed patients. But it does come with risks.

Dr. Madhukar Trivedi: There is a risk for addiction so that if people start taking Ketamine on their own on the black market, then that can be very dangerous. There are toxic effects in the brain if you overdose. On the other hand, for patients who do well on this and are getting the right dose under the guidance of a physician, it can be life saving.

Megan: When I have the IV in, it’s for 40 minutes, and then I stay for 2 hours after because it is an anesthetic so they want to make sure you don’t have adverse side effects.

Narrator: Dr. Madukhar Trivedi is closely monitoring Joyce … as well as the work his colleagues are doing at the bench.

Dr. Trivedi: At UT Southwestern, we have the whole breadth of work being done. There are people working like Dr. Monteggia in basic research. Understanding the exact mechanism of how Ketamine changes molecularly and changes the mechanism of action.

Dr. Lisa Monteggia: We got involved with how Ketamine triggers an anti-depressant effect because of the real need. Some of the recent clinical data has really shown that about a third of all patients don’t respond to anti-depressants. So, what do you do for treatment for those individuals?

Narrator: UT Southwestern’s Dr. Lisa Monteggia is a neuroscientist whose lab pinpointed a key protein that helps tigger Ketamine’s rapid antidepressent effects in the brain. Whereas traditional antidepressents can take up to 8 weeks to work, the effects of ketamine are seen within 60 to 90 minutes.

Dr. Monteggia: The idea of trying to understand how you generate a rapid anti-depressant response in patients … it’s really the first time we’ve been able to study it.

Narrator: Her study, published in the prestigious journal Nature, shows that ketamine blocks a protein responsible for a range of normal brain functions.

Dr. Monteggia: How we think Ketamine triggers an anti-depressant effect, this blocking the NMDA receptor, we think may also be causing the side effects associated with Ketamine. One of the things we’re working on is to try and see if we can identify compounds, slight derivatives perhaps, that may have the beneficial effects of Ketamine, in terms of triggering anti-depressant effects, without the side effects.

Narrator: In the meantime, Joyce remains optimistic for her future and the millions of others trying to defeat depression.

Megan: That’s why I really sought out Ketamine is I really wanted to give back and just have a chance at a semi-normal life.

Depression Patients Turning to Local Doctor’s Ketamine Therapy

The deaths of designer Kate Spade on Tuesday and TV Chef Anthony Bourdain Friday morning are bringing new attention to depression and suicide.

A new Center for Disease Control and Prevention report reveals suicide rates have risen 30 percent across much of the country since 1999.

But right here in San Diego, there is hope for a category of patients some doctors call “the untreatable.”

This patient, we’ll call Lisa, is composing a letter to the editor about her 20-year fight to stay alive.

“I know how tall the bridge is. I know how many seconds it takes to land,” Lisa said.

Lisa is an attorney with severe depression. Conventional medicines could not suppress her suicidal thoughts.

“It’s awful,” she said. “The day starts with waking up thinking ‘Can I even get out of bed?’ You just fight it to exhaustion every single day.”

She was referred to Dr. David Feifel who NBC 7 first also spoke to three years ago. Patients travel from as far away as Canada to undergo his Ketamine therapy.

“Sort of a psychedelic experience. It’s also been termed dissociative experience because it is sort of an out-of-body feeling,” Dr. Feifel said of his therapy.

Dr. Feifel says low doses of Ketamine have an almost immediate effect on his patients, unlike conventional anti-depressants that can take weeks to build up a therapeutic level.

While Ketamine doesn’t stay in the body more than a day, its effects can last for months.

“It seems to be able to vaporize people’s sense of wanting to take their life.” Dr. Feifel said.

Lisa has received some 35 treatments over the last four months.

“I walk in here crappy, I’ll leave happy. It is a remarkable, remarkable experience that in 20 years nothing has ever come close” Lisa said.

Her goal is to need fewer treatments and experience longer-lasting effects.

Lisa’s hope for the so-called “untreatable community” of depressed people is they find help.

Ketamine-Associated Brain Changes – A Review of the Neuroimaging Literature

KEY POINTS:

                  Ketamine-Associated Brain Changes: A Review of the Neuroimaging Literature

Subanesthetic doses of ketamine have rapid (within hours), robust (across a variety of symptoms), and relatively sustained (typically up to one week) antidepressant effects—even in patients with TRD (treatment resistant depression). Clinical studies show that about 50% of patients with TRD have a significant decrease in symptoms within 24 hours of a single intravenous subanesthetic ketamine dose.

Animal models show that ketamine’s antidepressant effects are likely mediated by its antagonism of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors through increased α-amino-3-hydroxy-5- methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)–mediated glutamatergic signaling. This triggers activation of intracellular synaptogenic pathways, most notably in the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)–signaling pathway, which also has implications in many other psychiatric disorders.

With regard to MDD patients, decreased glutamate has been noted in various prefrontal regions, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), dorsomedial PFC (dmPFC), and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), when compared to controls.8–10 This shortage of glutamate makes ketamine an ideal treatment for MDD; by creating a surge in glutamate levels in regions of the brain that suffer from a glutamate deficit, ketamine may provide some normalization of glutamate levels in patients with MDD. This “glutamate surge” hypothesis has dominated as the primary theory of ketamine’s antidepressant mechanism.

Ketamine may work through additional receptors, as it is known to have effects on several opioid receptors, adrenergic receptors, and several serotonin and norepinephrine transporters.17–19 It is also possible that acute dissociative side effects of ketamine may be mediating antidepressant response.

One salient biological metric that may provide insight into ketamine’s mechanism of action is related to dissociation. Dissociative side effects begin from infusion, reach a peak typically within an hour of infusion, and are completely diminished 230 minutes after infusion.20 The same study has shown that increased dissociation and psychotomimetic symptoms immediately following infusion may predict antidepressant response. (Luckenbaugh DA, Niciu MJ, Ionescu DF, et al. Do the dissociative side effects of ketamine mediate its antidepressant effects? J Affect Disord 2014;159:56–61Do the dissociative side effects of ketamine mediate its antidepressant effects.)

Certain themes have emerged with Ketamine. First are our findings of convergent brain regions implicated in MDD and how ketamine modulates those areas. Specifically, the subgenual ACC has been a region of interest in many previous studies. In relation to emotion and cognition, ketamine appears to reduce brain activation in regions associated with self-monitoring, to increase neural regions associated with emotional blunting, and to increase neural activity in reward processing.

Overall, ketamine’s effects were most notably found in the subgenual ACC, PCC, PFC, and hippocampus. Abnormalities in overlapping regions (specifically, the dorsal and subgenual ACC, amygdala, hippocampus, and ventral striatum) have been implicated, via a growing body of neuroimaging literature, in the pathophysiology of depression.  The subgenual ACC, in particular, has been a frequently studied area of interest concerning ketamine and MDD.

FMRI found significant reductions in subgenual ACC coupling with hippocampus, retrosplenial cortex, and thalamus. Immediate reductions in subgenual ACC blood flow and focal reductions in OFC blood flow strongly predicted dissociation.

NIMH studies using PET 120 minutes postinfusion found that increased metabolism in the subgenual ACC was positively correlated with improvements in depression scores post-ketamine. (Neural correlates of rapid antidepressant response to ketamine in bipolar disorder..)

Analysis of resting-state scans in healthy volunteers further suggests that dissociation may be responsible for ketamine’s antidepressant effects because it may disconnect the “excessive effects of an aversive visceromotor state on cognition and the self”—a hallmark of depression.40(p 163) Related, one study found that ketamine may dampen brain regions involved in rumination (the repetitive focusing of attention on negative feelings and thoughts in response to negative mood) by reducing the functional connectivity between the pregenual ACC and the dorsal PCC, and decreasing connectivity between the left and right executive-control networks.  (. Lehmann M, Seifritz E, Henning A, et al. Differential effects of rumination and distraction on ketamine induced modulation of resting state functional connectivity and reactivity of regions within the default-mode network. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2016;11:1227–35 .Differential effects of rumination and distraction on ketamine induced modulation of resting state functional connectivity and reactivity of regions within the default-mode network.)

Taken together, these studies suggest that ketamine may cause a “disconnect” in several circuits related to affective processing, perhaps by shifting focus of attention away from the internal states of anxiety, depression, and somatization, and more toward the perceptual changes (e.g., hallucinations, visual distortions, derealization) induced by ketamine. Similarly, during an emotion task, ketamine attenuated responses to negative pictures, suggesting that the processing of negative information is specifically altered in response to ketamine. (Scheidegger M, Henning A, Walter M, et al. Ketamine administration reduces amygdalo-hippocampal reactivity to emotional stimulation. Hum Brain Mapp 2016;37:1941–52.Ketamine administration reduces amygdalo‐hippocampal reactivity to emotional stimulation)

By taking the focus off “oneself” and placing it on other stimuli, it is possible that ketamine decreases awareness of negative experiences and consequently improves mood.

Perhaps most interesting are ketamine’s effects on brain connectivity as it relates to self-monitoring behaviors. Reduced connectivity between the pregenual ACC and dorsal PCC was associated with increased dissociation during infusion, and reduced activation in the left superior temporalcortex was associated with impaired self-monitoring56,65—which is disruptive to patients with psychotic illness—especially those with chronic symptoms of psychosis. By contrast, the transient dissociation experienced by depressed patients during a ketamine infusion may have the effect of dampening what the hyperactive self-monitoring associated with depressive illness (Lehmann M, Seifritz E, Henning A, et al. Differential effects of rumination and distraction on ketamine induced modulation of resting state functional connectivity and reactivity of regions within the default-mode network. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2016;11:1227–35Differential effects of rumination and distraction on ketamine induced modulation of resting state functional connectivity and reactivity of regions within the default-mode network. b)

During ketamine administration, subjects experience emotional blunting, which may be associated with reduced limbic responses to emotional stimuli.54,55 It is possible that by decreasing the activity of deep limbic structures (thought to be involved in the pathophysiology of depression, such as the amygdala), ketamine acutely disables the emotional resources required to perpetuate the symptoms of depression. (Abel KM, Allin MP, Kucharska-Pietura K, et al. Ketamine and fMRI BOLD signal: distinguishing between effects mediated by change in blood flow versus change in cognitive state. Hum Brain Mapp 2003;18:135–45. Ketamine and fMRI BOLD signal Distinguishing between effects mediated by change in blood flow versus change in cognitive state|||| Abel KM, Allin MP, Kucharska-Pietura K, et al. Ketamine alters neural processing of facial emotion recognition in healthy men: an fMRI study. Neuroreport 2003;14:387–91 Ketamine alters neural processing of facial emotion recognition in healthy men an fMRI study.)

Ketamine may play a role in reactivating reward areas of the brain in patients with MDD. This reactivation may be especially important, as reward areas in MDD have been characterized by decreased subcortical and limbic activity and by an increased cortical response to reward paradigms. (Zhang WN, Chang SH, Guo LY, Zhang KL, Wang J. The neural correlates of reward-related processing in major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. J Affect Disord 2013;151:531–9.)

In resting-state scans, BOLD activation in the cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, insula, thalamus, and midbrain increased after ketamine.( Stone J, Kotoula V, Dietrich C, De Simoni S, Krystal JH, Mehta MA. Perceptual distortions and delusional thinking following ketamine administration are related to increased pharmacological MRI signal changes in the parietal lobe. J Psychopharmacol 2015;29:1025–8.Perceptual distortions and delusional thinking following ketamine administration are related to increased pharmacological MRI signal changes in the parietal lobe)

In addition, ketamine increases neural activation in the bilateral MCC, ACC, and insula, as well as the right thalamus.  Activation of these areas is consistent with activation of reward-processing areas, suggesting that ketamine may play a role in activating reward neurocircuitry. (Hoflich A, Hahn A, Kublbock M, et al. Ketamine-dependent neuronal activation in healthy volunteers. Brain Struct Funct 2017;222:1533–42.)

Though no single brain area has been singled out as the locus of depression, ketamine affects different areas of the brain in various ways, which may contribute to overall mood improvements. For example, at baseline, patients with MDD, compared to healthy volunteers, had reduced global connectivity in the PFC and increased connectivity in the posterior cingulate, precuneus, lingual gyrus, and cerebellum; postketamine, responders had increased connectivity in the lateral PFC, caudate, and insula. (Abdallah CG, Averill LA, Collins KA, et al. Ketamine treatment and global brain connectivity in major depression. Neuropsychopharmacology 2017;42:1210–9.Ketamine Treatment and Global Brain Connectivity in Major Depression.)

These findings may reflect ketamine’s ability to reclaim frontal control over deeper limbic structures, thus strengthening the cognitive control of emotions and decreasing depressive symptoms. Similarly, TRD patients, compared to healthy volunteers, had reduced insula and caudate responses to positive emotions at baseline, which normalized in the caudate post-ketamine. (Murrough JW, Collins KA, Fields J, et al. Regulation of neural responses to emotion perception by ketamine in individuals with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. Transl Psychiatry 2015;5:e509 Regulation of neural responses to emotion perception by ketamine in individuals with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder.)

Improvements are correlated with increased metabolism in the hippocampus, dorsal ACC, and decreased metabolism in the OFC. (Lally N, Nugent AC, Luckenbaugh DA, Niciu MJ, Roiser JP, Zarate CA Jr. Neural correlates of change in major depressive disorder anhedonia following open-label ketamine. J Psychopharmacol 2015;29:596–607 Neural correlates of change in major depressive disorder anhedonia following open-label ketamine.)

Specifically, based on this review, future studies should likely focus on ketamine’s action in the subgenual ACC, PCC, PFC, and hippocampus. Another promising direction for research builds on the view that depression is the product of underactive prefrontal and limbic mood-regulation networks and overreactive subcortical limbic networks, which are involved in emotional and visceral responses. (Drevets WC, Price JL, Furey ML. Brain structural and functional abnormalities in mood disorders: implications for neurocircuitry models of depression. Brain Struct Funct 2008; 213:93–118 Brain structural and functional abnormalities in mood disorders.)

Ketamine’s potential use in both research and treatment is promising indeed.

 

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