Role of Ketamine in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders

Sahar Derakhshanian, MD, 1 Maxine Zhou, MD, 1 Alexander Rath, MD, 1 Rachel Barlow, BS, 2 Sarah Bertrand, BS, 2 Caroline DeGraw, BS, 2 Christopher Lee, MD, 3 Jamal Hasoon, MD, 4 and Alan D. Kaye, MD, PhD 5

1Department of Psychiatry, Louisiana State University Shreveport, LA

2 Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport School of Medicine, LA

3Department of Internal Medicine, Creighton University School of Medicine-Phoenix Regional Campus, Phoenix, AZ

4Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

5Department of Anesthesiology, Louisiana State University Shreveport, LA



Purpose of review

This is a comprehensive review of the literature regarding the use of ketamine as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression (TRD). It covers the epidemiology, risk factors, pathophysiology, and current treatment modalities regarding Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and TRD. It provides background on the mechanism of action of ketamine, its history, current approved and off-label indications in the field of psychiatry, and then provides an overview of the existing evidence for the use of ketamine in the treatment of TRD.

Recent findings

MDD is a mental illness that puts an enormous strain on the affected and a high socio-economic burden on society. The illness is complex and combines genetic, pathophysiologic, and environmental factors that combine to negatively affect neurotransmitter balance in the brain. Additional evidence suggests dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary (HPA) axis, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), vitamin D levels, and involvement of pro-inflammatory markers. Core symptoms include depressed mood or anhedonia, combined with neurovegetative symptoms such as sleep impairment, changes in appetite, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and psychomotor retardation. Current first-line treatment options are antidepressants of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) class. Failure to respond to two adequate trials of treatment meets the criteria for TRD. Esketamine (Spravato) is an NMDA-receptor antagonist with additional AMPA-receptor agonist properties, which the FDA approved in 2019 to treat adult TRD in conjunction with an oral antidepressant. It can be administered intranasally, providing a rapid response and proven effective and safe. Additional research suggests that oral ketamine might be effective for PTSD and anxiety disorders. Intravenous administration of ketamine has also shown benefits for acute suicidal ideation and depression and substance use to reduce relapse rates.


TRD is associated with huge costs on individual and societal levels. Underlying disease processes are multifactorial and not well understood. Adjunctive therapies for TRD with proven benefits exist, but acutely depressed and suicidal patients often require prolonged inpatient stabilization. Intranasal esketamine is a new FDA-approved alternative with rapid benefit for TRD, which has also shown a rapid reduction in suicidal ideation while maintaining a favorable side-effect profile. Additional potential off-label uses for ketamine in psychiatric disorders have been studied, including PTSD, anxiety disorders, bipolar depression, and substance use disorders.

Keywords: mdd, intravenous, intranasal, spravato, ketamine, antidepressant, depression, trd


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