– I’ve been really tired all of the time. Fatigue is back, such a bitch. – [Chase] Around 5 million people in the U.S. with depression don’t respond to commonly prescribed or recommended treatments. – It’s been making, like, doing regular day-to-day activities a lot harder. – For these people, therapy, antidepressants, physical activity don’t quell the condition. But there’s new hope on the horizon, ketamine. Long been known as a party drug and animal anesthetic, it’s one of the newest legal forms of medication to treat depression. Infusion centers are popping up all over the country. And now there’s even a pocket-sized version of the drug for really anyone to take a hit. – Ketamine completely wiped out my depression. I’m just as shocked as anyone else would be. I feel like this is the person that I’m supposed to be.
(upbeat music) – Over the past couple of week, I’ve felt like this, like a feeling of impending doom, some kind of a crushing weight coming down on me. – [Chase] Chris has suffered with depression since she was a teenager. – So depression is, it’s an interesting disease ’cause a lot of people think that depression is just being sad. But sadness is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve finally talked to a psychiatrist about it. And she explained to be how depression worked in my brain.
And that it was probably something that I was going to deal with for the rest of my life. I wasn’t surprised, but it was also disheartening because managing something like that takes so much energy. – About one in three people in the U.S., including Chris, have treatment resistant depression. – [Chris] There’s a point where you can make yourself believe that you’re managing the symptoms. But it was pretty clear that that wasn’t what the case was any longer. – As we started doing research for the story, we came across Chris’s firsthand account on Reddit of her experience using ketamine for the first time to treat her depression. When we reached out, she was preparing to go back for a booster infusion, which is typically recommended every one to six months depending on the severity of the condition. – Today is the day of my next ketamine infusion.
I’m really excited because I’ve been kinda putting this off for a while. – [Nurse Practitioner] How have you been doing these last couple months? – I was okay for most of it, but the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling the symptoms coming back. – Deep breaths. – [Nurse Practitioner] You ready? – [Chris] I’m ready. – [Nurse Practitioner] Pressing start. I’ll see you in an hour. – All right. – [Chase] The flurry of activity around using ketamine to treat depression is recent. But the research goes back decades.
– I decided to try to use ketamine as a way to study the brain, human cognitive function in the early 1990s. – Dr. Krystal is one of the leading experts in this field. He pioneered research on ketamine’s effect on depressed patients and has continued his work since then by assisting in the development of the ketamine nasal spray. – We were really shocked by the fact that within several hours some people began to feel a little bit better. And by 24 hours, a number of the people that received ketamine felt all better or nearly all better. This was something that was unforgettable, that was shocking. (sophisticated music) – What really differentiates ketamine from common antidepressants is how it affects the brain. Ketamine can assist in repairing neurons and synapses that typically don’t function properly with depressed patients. Antidepressants usually focus on increasing chemicals in the brain like serotonin or dopamine. – Ketamine provokes a response in the brain. And it’s the adaptation to that provocation, the regrowth of synaptic connections that are responsible for the rapid improvement in mood. If you have treatment resistant depression and you go on an additional new medication, you have between about a 10 and 20% chance of response.
Ketamine produces response rates more like 50 to 80%. That’s a huge difference. – These dramatic results have been known in the scientific community for a long time. But ketamine is a part of a larger class of substances, where an anti-illicit drug attitude hinders further research and adoption. The good news, attitudes are changing, and access to the drug as a medication is becoming more readily available. For example, the FDA approved a nasal spray form of ketamine last year. Users can get relief in minutes or hours rather than weeks or months like the typical antidepressants. And having quick at-home relief is especially important for those who have severe depression. Chris and other patients use the nasal spray in addition to getting regular infusions. – All right, Christine. So how was that infusion? – It was good. – It was good? – Yeah. – Positive overall? – [Chris] Yes. – [Man] So I’m gonna try this out. – [Man] You should have some. – That was good. – The benefits of this drug are rapidly increasing access and opening up the door to new research for conditions beyond depression like PTSD, severe anxiety, chronic pain, and bipolar disorder.
Of course, with any drug, there are risks. Ketamine does have a record of abuse. Dr. Krystal says that sometimes the urgency of depression can result in people taking too much, which could eventually decrease the effectiveness and likelihood of long-term recovery. Also there are side effects of ketamine. And research on long-term use is still pretty thin. Chris says the days after an infusion, she feels tired and forgetful.
But for her, those side effects don’t outweigh the drug’s benefits. We caught up with her a few days after her infusion to see how she was feeling. – It’s definitely like a night and day response. On Saturday, I felt totally fine. Like, I just woke up, and I felt very refreshed. I felt like I was in a great mood. And it feels like waking up from a bad dream. It feels like all of that fog just goes away. – We’re always fighting stigma in mental illness in our society. People with depression are stigmatized. That makes it difficult for people to get access to treatments. I think the way forward is not to ignore the past. We can’t pretend that ketamine is not a drug of abuse. But there are many, many medications which have risks. The therapeutic use of ketamine is embracing the risk, protecting people, and making sure people get the benefit they need. I’ve talked to many people who’ve benefited from ketamine. And each time I hear a new story about that, I just am so grateful that I had the opportunity to contribute to the benefits that people are deriving from ketamine.
It’s deeply meaningful. – I would like other people who’ve been through what I’ve been through to know that there’s an alternative treatment out there that can make you feel like the person you are supposed to be, the person that’s underneath all of that blanket of dampening gray that the depression creates. Just have that lifted and bloom and be the person that you wanna be. – Thanks for watching. For more dope science content, check out our website. And subscribe to Freethink for more videos every week..
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