Ketamine and SSRI Medications: How Do They Compare?

Ketamine and SSRI Medications: How Do They Compare?

By KCLA | February 27th, 2023 |

If you're deciding between ketamine and SSRI medications for treating depression, you need to know exactly how they compare. Significant differences exist between how fast each treatment can work, the level of relief each can provide, the side effects they produce, and more. 

Traditional SSRIs, which include common medications like Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft, and Paxil, are standard prescriptions for those suffering from anxiety and depression. Usually used with psychotherapy, these drugs are a go-to first-line treatment among most doctors, who consider them a low-risk medication for depression and other mental health disorders. 

However, SSRIs don't work for everyone. Even those who try multiple SSRIs may discover that the drugs fail to address the symptoms of their depression adequately and produce adverse side effects. Some patients don't benefit from numerous medications, a response referred to as treatment-resistant depression, which can be a frustrating experience with little recourse through traditional therapeutic methods. Enter ketamine infusions. 

Ketamine and SSRIs differ fundamentally, so in many cases, Ketamine Infusion Therapy can successfully treat depression and anxiety when SSRIs can't. That's good news for people with treatment-resistant depression and those struggling with other conditions that SSRIs treat, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

How SSRIs Work – and Why They're Not Ideal for Everyone

SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the most popular drugs prescribed to treat depression. And while there are a handful of significant brand names within this class, they all work similarly. An SSRI medication blocks serotonin receptors in the brain, thus preventing serotonin deficiencies and keeping more of this crucial neurotransmitter available for transmission between brain cells. The theory is that this helps with depression because serotonin – which is responsible for regulating mood, behavior, and attention – may be less active in people with depression. 

However, recent research concerning the biology of depression has found that the condition is likely unrelated to a lack of serotonin in the brain, explaining why SSRIs fail so many people trialing medication for depression. Approximately 33% of patients are considered treatment resistant.

There are other significant drawbacks to SSRIs, too. Notably, it can take weeks or months to experience considerable relief from this class of antidepressants. There are also issues related to needing daily pills and the risk of dependency, plus common unwanted side effects like weight gain, headaches, sleep problems, and reduced libido. 

Fortunately, there are alternatives to antidepressants, like ketamine for treatment-resistant depression. In addition to successfully treating depression when SSRIs can't, research suggests that ketamine can also work faster than traditional antidepressants, with results in as little as a few hours to a few days instead of a few weeks to months.

Benefits of Ketamine for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Ketamine was considered a last-line treatment about 15 years ago, but now it is starting to be regarded as a first-line treatment as an SSRI alternative or in combination, ketamine and SSRI together. This is mainly due to the ability of Ketamine Infusion Therapy to quickly offer relief from depressive symptoms, including those associated with treatment-resistant depression. 

Individuals who haven't succeeded with traditional SSRIs are quickly discovering that ketamine could be the answer they've been looking for. In one study looking at the efficacy of ketamine therapy for treating depression, a single ketamine infusion had a "robust and rapid effect" on depressive symptoms immediately after one infusion and for one-month post-infusion. 

Instead of waiting months to see if the treatment is working, most individuals know after just two or three sessions whether ketamine is sufficient for treating their depression. For most of them (including 83% at KCLA), Ketamine Infusion Therapy successfully relieves treatment-resistant depression.  

As ketamine therapy gains popularity, more people are making the switch before spending months or years jumping between various SSRIs without any meaningful benefits and with unwanted side effects. With less time and money wasted on medications that don't work comes more time and money spent enjoying life.

Looking for Alternatives to Antidepressants? Ketamine May Be Right for You

If you aren't finding relief from your depression with SSRIs, know that you're not alone – or out of luck. At Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles, almost 100% of our patients have been deemed treatment-resistant, and 83% benefit from ketamine therapy. We have been treating patients with treatment-resistant depression all day, every day, for 9+ years with Ketamine Infusion Therapy. We're happy to work with you to see if ketamine is a viable option for your needs. Please call us today to schedule your free consultation and to learn more about the benefits of ketamine therapy for the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mood disorders.