Ketamine offers option for people suffering from severe depression

LITTLETON, Colo. -- Ketamine is offering new hope for people suffering from severe depression who have not responded to traditional medications.

Ketamine is an anesthetic used in hospitals and veterinary clinics. It’s also abused on the party scene as a hallucinogenic.

But now doctors at ketamine clinics in Colorado say it is helping people with depression.

Jon Press of Colorado Springs is one of those people.

“I’ve been hospitalized when the depression got really bad,” Press said.

At times, the husband and father has been suicidal and unable to function.

“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the '90s, and have struggled off and on trying to find a treatment that actually worked, and the side effects have been intolerable of a lot of the medications,” Press said.

Now he goes to Vitalitas Denver Ketamine Infusion Center in Littleton, where anesthesiologist Dr. Roman Langston administers a low dose of ketamine through an IV.

“It’s life changing for a lot of people,” Langston said.

Langston treats people with severe depression who are working with a therapist, and have not responded to medications.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but he says two out of three respond to the ketamine.

“It reduces their symptoms by 50 to 75 percent, which is obviously very meaningful in this population,” he said.

Ketamine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1970 for anesthesia, but it is not approved to treat depression.

Doctors use it off label, which is a common and legal practice. Research is promising, but not complete, and some question the long term safety and the possibility of addiction.

“I’m not aware of anybody who has ever received ketamine in a therapeutic way, who then went on to abuse it recreationally. It’s certainly something we need to think about,” Langston said.

As for Press, he said ketamine works for him, and it works quickly, which for people considering suicide, could be life-saving.

“It’s not like a happiness infusion. It just kind of gives you the ability to say, I can do this, I can get out of bed, I can go to work, I can function. It kind of clears up the cloudiness in my thinking,” Press said.

So what’s it like? Press said he feels spacey and very relaxed.

“I think it's hallucinating. It’s more like maybe awake dreaming,” he said. “Some of it is whimsical, but some of it’s really profound.”

He and Langston hope the treatment becomes more accepted. The cost of a ketamine infusion at Vialitas Denver is $325.

It is not covered by insurance, but Langston hopes that will change. He says there is also research going on to see if ecstasy and mushrooms could have similar effects on depression.