Ketamine and Brain Plasticity

By Kristen R. Dagenais, BSN RN SCRN

The term plasticity, when referring to the brain, means the ability to form new connections and/or structures in the brain. Through a multitude of imaging studies, such as MRI, it is now known that chronic stress, trauma, and depression cause “atrophy of neurons in limbic brain regions implicated in depression, including the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus” (Duman et al., 2012). In other words, the cells (neurons) in your brain shrink and die causing structural damage to your brain. A study done by the neuropharmacology division at Yale discovered that “ketamine rapidly increases synaptogenesis” (Duman et al., 2021).

Synaptogenesis is brain plasticity… ketamine causes new neurons (brain cells) to be formed rapidly! As a result, the beneficial effects of ketamine are close to immediate. Rather than waiting two to four weeks for an antidepressant medication like an SSRI to be of any help, ketamine acts rapidly to decrease depressive symptoms while also repairing the brain damage caused by chronic stress! “Together these studies indicate that ketamine rapidly reverses the [shrinking] of [neurons] in the [brain] and thereby causes a functional reconnection of neurons that underlies the rapid behavioral responses” (Duman et al., 2012).

Because of this amazing discovery, ketamine can be used in crisis situations (like when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts). You feel the effects within minutes of starting the infusion and the results from one infusion last at least two weeks! This window of efficacy allows for the space and time to confront your issues in a manner that comes from a healthy head space. Clinical evidence shows that exposure to ketamine produced rapid and persistent antidepressant effects in a significant portion of treatment-resistant depression subjects (Colo et al., 2019). Ketamine helps your brain to rewire its own circuits to repair years of structural damage. And it has also been shown to be extremely effective for alcohol and substance abuse recovery.

If you have been battling depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD without relief from conventional antidepressant treatments, do some research on your own about ketamine. Major breakthroughs are being made by the world’s top scientists and researchers about the effects of ketamine and other psychoactive medicines. The studies are showing amazing results in the field of mental wellness.

Collo, G., Cavalleri, L., & Pich, E. M. (2019). Structural plasticity induced by ketamine in human dopaminergic neurons as mechanism relevant for treatment-resistant depression. Chronic Stress, 3, 1-6.

Duman, R. S., Li, N., Liu, R. J., Duric, V., & Aghajanian, G. (2012). Signaling pathways underlying the rapid antidepressant actions of ketamine. Neuropharmacology. 62(1): 35–41. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.08.044