Ketamine Infusion for Depression Experience
Before getting ketamine infusions for depression, you’ll likely want to know what a ketamine infusion experience is like. While the ketamine infusion experience is different from person to person, the protocol for ketamine infusions for depression is similar for everyone. Read on to learn what it’s really like to receive intravenous ketamine infusions.
What Is a Ketamine Infusion?
A ketamine infusion is a dose of ketamine that is given via the intravenous (IV) route of administration. Ketamine infusions are typically used to treat major depression or depression in bipolar disorder but can be used to treat chronic pain conditions as well.
Before Getting a Ketamine Infusion
Before getting a ketamine infusion, you should expect thorough medical and psychiatric evaluations as well as medical tests to make sure you are healthy enough for the treatment. These assessments and tests are very important as ketamine infusions can be challenging both mentally and physically and only a doctor who is well-acquainted with your health can make good decisions for you.
Ketamine Infusion Procedure
You will likely be shown to a room with a comfortable reclining chair or bed. You will not need to disrobe or wear a hospital gown for treatment. The Ketamine Advocacy Network suggests that you always request a single-person room as a ketamine infusion is a very personal experience. A loved one is usually allowed to stay with you during the ketamine infusion treatment if you want. You’ll then be connected to vital sign monitors such as pulse and oxygen saturation monitors.
It is at this point that you’ll have an IV inserted. A tiny needle is used to insert a tube into a vein in your hand or arm and many find this to be painless. The tube will be connected to a bag held a couple of feet above you. The bag contains the specific dose of ketamine you will require and it will be delivered directly into your bloodstream at a controlled rate. The rate may be adjusted during your treatment to maximize its benefit. It takes approximately 45 minutes for a ketamine infusion and you may need to be under observation after that for an hour or occasionally more. You cannot drive yourself home after an infusion.
People, typically, initially receive six infusions over the course of two-three weeks.
What Does Getting an IV Ketamine Infusion for Depression Feel Like?
Once the ketamine enters your system, it will reach your brain within seconds and you will quickly be able to feel its effects. You won’t be able to stand or converse normally and you’ll feel extremely relaxed but you will still be awake. While others may view a person that seems almost asleep, your brain will still fully be engaged. While this sensation is often found to be “weird”, most people do find it pleasant.
Experience of Side Effects of the Ketamine Infusion
During the infusion, you may experience dissociation, where the mind and body seem to separate. This side effect of the ketamine infusion can often be minimized simply by opening your eyes.
As stated, your mind will be very active during the IV infusion so it may wander to thoughts of trauma or anxiety, but unlike your usual feelings around those thoughts, you will view it matter-of-factly. One patient described his ketamine infusion experience like this:
“. . . you start disassociating with everything, like you're observing, not participating in anything. It's really weird . . . As far as the mind goes, you start going through these weird levels, kind of like in the movies Inception or The Matrix, where you don't know what's real.
"You start thinking about all kinds of stuff. Whatever races through your mind—and usually when you're depressed it's negative sh*t—when you're on ketamine, it's just like: ‘Well, nothing I can do about that.’ You feel like, ‘I'm not in control, and that's fine; you're going to die someday and that's just life.’ You kind of learn to just accept it, I guess."
Although most patients do experience relaxation during a ketamine infusion, there can be moments of fright, particularly if you go into the experience with very high anxiety. Listening to calming music or watching a calming image may help with this, however.
Feeling Better After the Ketamine Infusion Procedure
It varies as to how long it will take for the ketamine to kick in. Some find relief within only an hour or two while others need multiple infusions to feel the benefit. Unfortunately, 20-40% of people do not experience a positive response to ketamine treatment (Reviews on Ketamine for Depression).
What’s important to remember is that no matter what you experience during a ketamine infusion, it’s the changes that the ketamine makes to your brain that relieve depression and not the infusion experience itself.
Last Updated: 31 January 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD