Understanding ketamine, finding relief for clinical depression at Desert Sands

Photo by kieferpix/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — For people living with treatment-resistant depression and other mood disorders, ketamine administered in low doses via IV infusion may at least provide relief without a slew of undesirable side effects. 

Dr. Eric Evans and Shannon Evans, owners of Desert Sands Medical Clinics, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

At Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center, Dr. Eric Evans focuses on patients suffering from clinical depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical anxiety, and he said that many of them have already tried the pharmaceutical approach. 

On the therapeutic level, ketamine works to stabilize mood imbalances by boosting a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Evans said ketamine is about 70% effective in treating depression, a significantly higher success rate than antidepressants and talk therapy. 

Because ketamine is still relatively new in the treatment of mood disorders, Evans said he is striving to answer questions and dispel misconceptions about the drug. 

Is ketamine safe?

Over the course of his 25-year career as a board-certified anesthesiologist, Evans has routinely administered ketamine. The drug can be found on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines and has been used in higher doses by hospitals as a surgical anesthetic for more than half a century. 

Evans said ketamine has a very safe side-effect profile when compared to antidepressants and other prescription medications used to treat mood disorders. At Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center, patients’ blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and blood oxygen levels are closely monitored throughout the infusion process.  

“I have never seen an allergic reaction to ketamine,” Evans said. “Using ketamine in the doses we do for treating depression is extremely safe for our patients.”

Can I get addicted to ketamine?

Evans spent 15 years as the head of a clinic treating people with chronic and severe pain. During this time, he encountered many patients who developed an addiction to narcotic pain medications.

However, unlike painkillers, ketamine is not a habit-forming substance. While there have been instances of it being abused recreationally, Evans said this is uncommon and not something he observes among patients at his  clinic. And there is an additional benefit to ketamine treatment.

“When people treat their depression and anxiety with ketamine and start feeling well, they decrease the need for self-medicating with things like alcohol, marijuana and narcotics,” he said. 

What can I expect from a ketamine infusion?

Evans recommends that patients not eat too much or too soon before a ketamine treatment and make arrangements for a ride home. Having a trusted friend or family member accompany them to their sessions is encouraged.  

Each infusion lasts 40 minutes, during which time patients enter a dreamlike state they often describe as relaxing and enjoyable, Evans said. Because ketamine metabolizes quickly, the dissociative effects begin to fade as soon as the infusion stops. Patients usually feel back to normal within 15-20 minutes.

After an infusion, the staff at Desert Sands will have a discussion with each patient about the sensations they experienced and where their thoughts traveled. 

“That’s a good time for us to get to know them better and see if there’s other tools we can add to their toolbox to help them deal with their depression, anxiety and other issues,” Evans said.

How many ketamine infusions will I need?

Following a consultation, patients undergo infusions twice a week for up to three weeks. Evans and his team will assess their progress after the first four sessions. 

Interior of the Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“We typically find that patients fall into one of two groups at that point,” he said. “Either they feel amazing, or they’re 50% to 70% improved and want to get the last two infusions to see if they can get even better before going into the maintenance phase.” 

Patients typically remain in the maintenance phase after completing their initial course of treatment, Evans said. Most require an infusion only once a month or once every other month to sustain their improved mood.

“There’s only about 10% of patients in our clinic that ketamine just isn’t the right answer for,” he said. 

Evans urges anyone seeking relief from depression to not let anxiety or fear of the unknown prevent them from seeking ketamine therapy. 

“Most patients are a little anxious because it’s something new, but by the time they leave after their first visit, they’re pleasantly surprised at how easy and comfortable it was,” he said. “I want people to reach out and help themselves, rather than continuing down the same path expecting different results.” 

For more information or to schedule a free consultation, visit the Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center website or call 435-522-5190.

Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.

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