Desert Sands Ketamine uses an old drug to provide new hope in treating depression

Stock image by KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Historically used for sedation and pain relief, ketamine represents a new frontier in the treatment of mental health disorders. 

Interior of the Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Ketamine administered in low doses via IV infusion targets the area of the brain that processes mood and emotion in the conscious mind. For people living with treatment-resistant depression and other forms of mental illness, it may hold the key to stabilizing mood imbalances with minimal side effects. 

At Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center, Dr. Eric Evans focuses on patients suffering from clinical depression, clinical anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression. Because ketamine is still an emerging treatment for mood disorders, Evans said he is striving to answer questions and dispel common misconceptions about the drug.

Should I keep taking antidepressants if ketamine works for me?

Evans said ketamine patients often experience remarkable improvement starting with their first infusion. Because their mood quickly stabilizes, they may feel they no longer need antidepressants or other medications for their mood disorder, but he recommends that patients remain stable for at least two to three months after completing their initial course of infusions before starting to taper off any other medications – if that is one of their goals. 

“We definitely don’t recommend patients go off their other mental health medications just because they’re feeling great with ketamine treatment,” Evans said. “It’s just way too difficult to have someone withdrawing from their antidepressant medication while we’re dialing ketamine in; it creates a moving target.” 

Ketamine can be used safely in conjunction with other treatments, he said, adding that there are no demonstrated drug interaction problems between ketamine and any antidepressant on the market, nor does it cause any of the unpleasant side effects linked to medications commonly used for treating mood imbalances. 

Is there a connection between ketamine and opioids?

Evans said he has routinely administered ketamine over the course of his 25-year career as an anesthesiologist. Whether used for surgery or in therapeutic doses, it is a safe drug that the vast majority of patients tolerate well, and unlike painkillers, ketamine is not a habit-forming substance, he said. 

“Ketamine is not an opioid. It’s a completely different class of medications than narcotics. It doesn’t cause all the issues that we worry about with narcotics.” 

Is ketamine a new treatment for depression?  

Ketamine has been used in medicine for nearly half a century as a surgical anesthetic, but it was only about five years ago that researchers began to study its effects on the brain. Evans said most clinical trials have shown a 70% success rate when using ketamine for treating depression. By comparison, antidepressants have a success rate of approximately 40%.  

“For anesthesiologists like myself who have been using it for years in the hospital setting, it’s really exciting to be giving ketamine in a new way to help people with mental health disorders,” he said.  

Evans said ketamine works in a completely different way from medications that boost chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine. For patients who have experienced little relief through antidepressants or are struggling to cope with the side effects, the results can be profoundly transformative. 

Why am I hearing so much about ketamine lately?

As ketamine becomes more widely used in the treatment of mental health disorders with proven results, word is spreading through national news sources and medical journals. Evans said patients are telling their family practice doctors and psychiatrists how ketamine treatment has changed their lives for the better and are also taking to social media to share their stories.

Dr. Eric Evans and Shannon Evans, owners of Desert Sands Medical Clinics, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“The treatment of mental health disorders has been such a difficult thing,” he said. “Having success with a new medication – or in this case, an old medication used in a new way – is so welcomed by the community.”

When establishing Desert Sands, Evans prioritized making treatments affordable and accessible for the local community. The environment feels more like a spa than a medical clinic, he said, with a warm and compassionate staff that includes in-house counseling and other resources to help patients better understand and begin unraveling their emotional issues. 

“It’s not just about coming in, getting ketamine and going home,” he said. “We’ve tried to spare no expense to make this a very unique place to achieve lasting results from mental health disorders.”

For more information or to schedule a free consultation, visit the Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center website or call 435-522-5190.

Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.

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