Ketamine therapy shown effective in treating severe depression in veterans, study finds

Ketamine could be a viable remedy for veterans struggling with depression, new research has suggested.

The University of Michigan released a study on the effects of ketamine in cases of severe or treatment-resistant depression among veterans.

Half of the study participants experienced significant relief after undergoing six weeks of ketamine therapy, according to a Michigan Medicine press release.

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The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, looked into the data of 215 veterans receiving intravenous ketamine therapy at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.

All the participants had also undergone previous depression treatments without any improvement.

ketamine vile and depressed veteran split

Research from the University of Michigan found that ketamine therapy could be beneficial for veterans with depression. (Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images; iStock)

Nearly half of all patients saw a “meaningful drop” in depression scores after six weeks of infusions, according to the analysis by the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System (VAAAHS).

About 25% saw their depression score drop by half within six weeks of treatment, while 15% went into full remission despite the complexity of their mental health status.

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Almost all patients surveyed continued their treatment every few weeks or months.

“Further study is needed to determine optimal infusion frequency and potential for adverse effects with repeated ketamine infusions for depression,” the study findings stated.

veteran in therapy

Nearly half the participants in a new study saw a “meaningful drop” in depression scores after six weeks of IV ketamine infusions, the study found. (iStock)

In a statement sent to Fox News Digital, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes backed ketamine therapy as an option for veterans.

“VA supports the evidence-based use of ketamine infusions for treatment-resistant depression and severe suicidal ideation,” he said.

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“Many veterans with these mental health conditions are treated with IV ketamine annually – both at VA facilities and by community providers.”

Dr. Justin Gerstner, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Ellie Mental Health in Minnesota, told Fox News Digital that he thinks these findings on ketamine are “great,” as the VA population is “in need of new, innovative treatments for depression.”

(Gerstner was not involved in the Michigan study.)

ketamine vile

A doctor holds a vial of ketamine at the MindPeace Clinic in Richmond, Virginia. (Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“This study shows that this helps some of the hardest-to-treat veterans with depression,” he said.

As more psychedelic-assisted therapies emerge to treat numerous mental health issues, the doctor said ketamine is among the ones that produce results “pretty quickly.”

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Another benefit of ketamine therapy, according to Gerstner, is that it eliminates the need for patients to take medication every day, as with other treatment methods.

Gerstner said he uses ketamine therapy in his own practice, where the response from clients has been “great.”

ketamine treatment in clinic

Carl Montalbino, 67, receives his ketamine treatment while nurse Melissa Dougher checks his vitals on July 5, 2022, at MindPeace Clinic in Richmond, Virginia. (Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“It’s been quite transformative for a lot of our clients,” he told Fox News Digital. “It’s really a rewarding experience to be a part of that.”

Gerstner’s practice usually administers ketamine to clients via IV injection in two- to three-hour sessions, partnered with psychotherapy before and after treatment.

Potential risks and limitations

While ketamine can work as a “really powerful anti-depressant and anti-suicidal drug,” Gerstner said, he warned that it is “not the right answer for everybody or everything.”

“This is a really powerful medication and the way that it’s used can vary quite drastically.”

There are some risks and limitations involved, he said — including the potential for ketamine to be abused.

There isn’t too much regulation surrounding how ketamine treatments are administered, Gerstner noted, since the drug was previously approved for anesthetic use. 

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“The field is wide open, and it’s a little bit like the Wild West,” he said. “This is a really powerful medication and the way that it’s used can vary quite drastically.”

Various clinics have seen success with administering the drug in different forms, including oral, IV and injectable, according to Gerstner.

ketamine IV infusion

Various clinics have seen success with the drug being administered in different forms, including oral, IV and injectable. (Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For patients with severe treatment-resistant depression, a typical IV regimen is administered every two to three days in a hospital-based outpatient clinic, according to Michigan Medicine and VAAAHS.

“Those things are really all over the map,” Gerstner said. “It’s hard to regulate and there’s some risk in that, but it’s also what we have to do while learning what’s best.” 

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For veterans who are seeking better treatment, ketamine could be a “really important thing to consider for depression,” said Gerstner

“If they’re suffering with depression and feel like they’re not getting what they need, and they haven’t had a discussion about ketamine, it’s OK to ask [their provider] about it,” he added.

Fox News Digital reached out to the University of Michigan requesting additional comment on the research.

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