top of page

The Science Behind Ketamine: How It Works for Mental Health Disorders

Ketamine, an anesthetic drug with a long history of medical use, has garnered significant attention in recent years for its potential to treat mental health disorders, particularly depression. Understanding how ketamine works within the brain is essential to appreciating its therapeutic potential.

Ketamine acts primarily on the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain, which play a crucial role in learning, memory, and synaptic plasticity [1]. Unlike traditional antidepressants, which target monoamine neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine, ketamine has a unique mechanism of action that offers rapid relief from depressive symptoms [2].

When administered at low doses, ketamine blocks NMDA receptors, leading to an increase in glutamate, a critical excitatory neurotransmitter. This surge in glutamate triggers a series of events that ultimately result in the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes neural growth and enhances synaptic connections [3]. These changes may help to reverse the neural deficits observed in depression and other mental health disorders.

The rapid antidepressant effect of ketamine is one of its most notable features. While traditional antidepressants may take weeks or even months to demonstrate any benefit, ketamine can provide relief from depressive symptoms within hours of administration [4]. This rapid onset makes ketamine an attractive option for individuals suffering from treatment-resistant depression or those in acute crisis.

In addition to its use in treating depression, ketamine has shown promise in alleviating symptoms of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Preliminary research suggests that ketamine's unique mechanism of action may be effective in addressing the underlying neural dysfunction associated with these conditions, offering new avenues for treatment [5].

Furthermore, ketamine's ability to promote neuroplasticity may contribute to its long-term therapeutic effects. Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences, is thought to play a critical role in recovery from mental health disorders. By enhancing synaptic connections and promoting neural growth, ketamine may help patients develop healthier thought patterns and coping strategies, leading to lasting improvements in mental health [6].

It's important to note that while ketamine has shown great promise as a mental health treatment, more research is needed to fully understand its long-term effects and potential risks. Current treatment protocols typically involve a series of closely monitored infusions under the supervision of trained medical professionals, ensuring patient safety and minimizing potential side effects, most of which occur during the infusion period and abate shortly thereafter [7] [8].

In conclusion, the science behind ketamine's therapeutic effects on mental health disorders is fascinating and promising. Its unique mechanism of action, rapid onset of symptom relief, and potential to promote neuroplasticity set it apart from traditional antidepressant treatments. As research continues to advance, ketamine therapy may become a more widespread and increasingly important tool in the fight against depression and other mental health disorders.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues and is interested in learning more about ketamine therapy, please contact the Wellbeing Ketamine Clinic in Denver, CO to speak with one of our knowledgeable staff members. We are here to help you explore your treatment options and determine if ketamine therapy is the right choice for you.


  1. Zarate, C. A., Singh, J. B., Carlson, P. J., Brutsche, N. E., Ameli, R., Luckenbaugh, D. A., Charney, D. S., & Manji, H. K. (2006). A randomized trial of an N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist in treatment-resistant major depression. Archives of general psychiatry, 63(8), 856-864.

  2. Abdallah, C. G., Sanacora, G., Duman, R. S., & Krystal, J. H. (2015). Ketamine and rapid-acting antidepressants: a window into a new neurobiology for mood disorder therapeutics. Annual Review of Medicine, 66, 509-523.

  3. Duman, R. S., Aghajanian, G. K., Sanacora, G., & Krystal, J. H. (2016). Synaptic plasticity and depression: new insights from stress and rapid-acting antidepressants. Nature medicine, 22(3), 238-249.

  4. Murrough, J. W., Perez, A. M., Pillemer, S., Stern, J., Parides, M. K., aan het Rot, M., ... & Iosifescu, D. V. (2013). Rapid and longer-term antidepressant effects of repeated ketamine infusions in treatment-resistant major depression. Biological psychiatry, 74(4), 250-256.

  5. Feder, A., Parides, M. K., Murrough, J. W., Perez, A. M., Morgan, J. E., Saxena, S., ... & Charney, D. S. (2014). Efficacy of intravenous ketamine for treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(6), 681-688.

  6. Browne, C. A., & Lucki, I. (2013). Antidepressant effects of ketamine: mechanisms underlying fast-acting novel antidepressants. Frontiers in pharmacology, 4, 161.

  7. Sanacora, G., Frye, M. A., McDonald, W., Mathew, S. J., Turner, M. S., Schatzberg, A. F., ... & Nemeroff, C. B. (2017). A consensus statement on the use of ketamine in the treatment of mood disorders. JAMA psychiatry, 74(4), 399-405.

  8. Liriano, F., Hatten, C., & Schwartz, T. L. (2019). Ketamine as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder: a review. Drugs in Context, 8, 212305.


_well being logo blue and orange.png

Wellbeing is a ketamine clinic located in Denver, CO.

By appointment only.

1076 South Gaylord Street

Denver, CO 80209

(303) 722-0367


Thanks for subscribing!

Get on the list for the latest news and updates.

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
bottom of page