Inside The Most Controversial Depression Treatment Available

Greek physician Hippocrates, who was born circa 460 B.C.E., is considered the first physician to recognize depression in people. In his book "Aphorisms," he wrote: "If fear and sadness last a long time, such a state is melancholy" (via The Internet Classic Archives). Using the term "melancholy" may be antiquated, but Hippocrates was onto something, which is that depression, as we know it today, has existed from the early days of humankind.

Beginning with Hippocrates' time, doctors and quacks alike claimed to know miracle cures to rid the human body of depression. They performed exorcisms and practiced bloodletting, or "withdrawing blood from a person's veins for therapeutic reasons" according to Medical News Today. Then came lobotomies and electroshock therapy. There was no end to the attempts at curing depression in patients (via Verywell Mind).

After depression was officially added to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition in 1980, new therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and vagus nerve stimulation were introduced, claiming to treat the disorder (via Verywell Mind). And now there is yet another treatment available, but it is controversial in its own right.

What is ketamine?

If the word ketamine rings a bell, then you're already somewhat in the know. Ketamine has been used in the medical field as a fast-acting general anesthetic, and if injected directly into the bloodstream, it is also an extremely strong sedative (via Healthline).

Also known as Special K, ketamine is so strong, in fact, that people use it recreationally. And should they overdo it, they may find themselves trapped in what is referred to as a "K-hole," or somewhere between the conscious and subconscious. This results in feeling out-of-body experiences (via Urban Dictionary).

Although ketamine is called a mind-altering drug, the theory is, at least from a medical standpoint, that this could be a good thing. In fact, as far back as 2010, some doctors were recommending it to suicidal patients and seeing positive results (via The New Yorker). In other words, ketamine, if dispensed correctly and to people who need it, can truly be life-changing.

Why ketamine works

Despite the negative reputation ketamine has earned as a recreational drug, new research has found it can help treat depression because some people don't respond to traditional antidepressant medications, called SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Some common SSRIs include Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro, and Paxil. 

If those treatment options have failed, treatment-resistant depression alternatives like ketamine may be a last resort (via Psychology Today). "I don't think anyone can ignore it at this point," psychiatrist Craig Chepke tells Forbes. "It doesn't help everybody, but it does help a lot of these patients who really have nothing else left and who have exhausted almost every avenue of treatment." In fact, the FDA has approved the use of ketamine in the form of a nasal spray for the treatment of depression.

There's no hard and fast cure for depression, but with the proper treatment, there are ways to manage it. If ketamine can be the drug that eases depression, limits suicidal ideation, and saves lives, it's worth trying – controversial or not.