Exploring ketamine as a better solution for mood disorders; Q&A with Dr. Eric Evans of Desert Sands

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CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Ketamine represents an optimistic new frontier in the treatment of depression and other mental health disorders. 

Administered in low doses via IV infusion, ketamine works to stabilize mood imbalances by boosting a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It targets an area of the brain called the amygdala, which processes moods and emotions in the conscious mind. 

At Desert Sands Ketamine Treatment Center, Dr. Eric Evans focuses on patients struggling with clinical depression, clinical anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. With ketamine rapidly gaining popularity as a mental health treatment, he said he is striving to answer questions and dispel misconceptions about the drug. 

Can I use ketamine while taking antidepressants or other medications? 

Evans encourages patients to continue taking their prescribed antidepressants while undergoing ketamine treatment. Common drugs such as Prozac and Zoloft are completely safe to use, he said. An older class of medications known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as Nardil, can present negative interactions with ketamine, he said, but these drugs are seldom seen in a clinical setting anymore. 

Evans said that ketamine infusions can increase heart rate and blood pressure in some individuals. Therefore, any patient who has been diagnosed with hypertension will be carefully evaluated to ensure their blood pressure is under control before starting treatment at Desert Sands.  

“Other than that, we can typically give patients ketamine with almost any type of medication,” he said. “We do a thorough review of their medication list to make sure there won’t be any issues for them.” 

How effective is ketamine?

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

Yale University studies on ketamine treatment for depression have demonstrated a success rate of approximately 70%, Evans said. Some patients experience improvement in mood after their first infusion. By comparison, oral antidepressants typically yield a success rate of 40-45% and take between four and eight weeks to reach maximum efficacy.

“It’s not just that it has a higher success rate but that it’s a much quicker success rate,” he added. 

Evans said that Desert Sands has observed even better results than the clinical trials. Every new patient begins treatment according to the study protocols. Then dosage and frequency can be adjusted to suit their individual response. 

Do I need a referral?

Evans said he welcomes referrals from primary care physicians, psychiatrists and therapists, but it’s not necessary to begin treatment. Most patients who come to Desert Sands have already tried multiple approaches to treating their diagnosed mood disorders over the years but failed to obtain any significant or lasting results.

“It’s a great alternative for patients who are struggling and haven’t found relief in the traditional pharmaceutical offerings,” he said. “We encourage them to reach out and try something different before they lose hope.” 

Ketamine has proven effective for many people in combating treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Evans said. Desert Sands also provides an in-house therapist for patients who don’t already have that resource. 

Is there an age limit? 

Desert Sands accepts patients ages 15 and over. All patients under age 18 must have a referral from a mental health provider who will remain involved in their care throughout the ketamine treatment process.  

Ketamine is still an emerging science when it comes to the treatment of depression and other mood disorders. Evans said he decided to set an age limit at his clinic due to the minimal research and data available on the effects of ketamine on young, developing minds.

“For those patients, we encourage talk therapy first and other types of medication,” he said.  

Evans said this time of year can be especially difficult for people living with mood disorders. Cold weather, less sunlight and reduced activity may trigger seasonal affective disorder and worsening depression during the winter months. Add to that underlying anxiety, financial woes and self-isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and mental health nationwide is suffering. 

He urges anyone seeking a better solution for their depression to not let fear of the unknown prevent them from exploring ketamine therapy. It may hold the key to stabilizing mood imbalances with minimal side effects, providing relief and hope at last. 

“Ketamine is really amazing for people that are struggling with suicidal thoughts or symptoms of depression,” he said. “We encourage people to reach out and get help with those issues.” 

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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