LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Every year, more than 13 million Americans battle major depression.
Of those who seek treatment, 30 to 40 percent will not get better or fully recover with standard anti-depressants. That puts them at greater risk of alcohol and drug abuse, hospitalization, and suicide attempts.
A growing body of research shows there may be new hope with the anesthetic drug ketamine, which has a reputation as an illicit party drug due to its hallucinogenic effects.
Anxiety and depression have forced 26-year-old Brandee Munn to walk into the Arkansas Ketamine Clinic (AKC) for help.
"Everything kind of piled on top. Three kids, grad school, a husband. I guess it all got to be too much," she says.
Brandee tells Fox16's Donna Terrell that there have been days she didn't care if she lived to see tomorrow. Now, she's looking for relief in a little bottle.
"I know most people don't see that when they look at me. That's the scary thing about mental illness," she continues.
It sounds familiar to 23-year-old Payton McEwen, who has taken many different anti-depressant pills since age 12. They stopped working and she stopped functioning.
"Functioning for me is I could get up and go to work. It got to the point, the last six months of 2017, I couldn't even go to work. I'd get up and feel so anxious I couldn't even go outside," she explains.
Last December, Payton came to the AKC and had infusions over 11 days.
"Which treatment was it when you walked out of here and said I think this is going to work?," Donna asks her.
"The first one actually," she responds.
"We're not totally sure exactly how it does everything that it does," adds Anesthesiologist Dr. Michael Reding. He says ketamine is a sedation drug, often used as anesthesia for surgery, but much smaller doses can change a person's mental state.
Ketamine is known to relieve severe cases of anxiety, depression. postpartum depression, migraine headaches, post traumatic stress disorder and certain types of pain.
But there is another side.
"A few times I was able to kind of just zone out. I felt free, and floaty and light," says Payton.
"It sounds like you were on a drug," Donna tells her. "Yeah. Ketamine is a drug. They use it as a party drug, I guess," Payton says.
"This is a psychedelic drug. It's a cousin of LSD. It's not LSD, but it's similar in structure," Dr. Reding says.
It can also cause hallucinations, but patients are monitored closely and it's not suggested for people with only mild or temporary cases.
"There is an abuse concern, so, it's important to know we don't distribute ketamine for patients to take home," he explains.
Brandee is all smiles as she's prepped for her first treatment.
"You're going to see some patients that cannot smile. They come in here and they are beat down 100 percent. Everything in the world scares them. And when you see them go through this all of a sudden they're better, and better and then they're better you can't help but be passionate about it," says Brian Mears, co-owner of the Arkansas Ketamine Clinic.
"How do you guarantee your patients that come here don't become addicted to this drug?," Donna asks Dr. Reding.
"We counsel patients closely. We want to help you. We don't want to hurt you," Dr. Reding says.
"You said you had a really bad headache a few minutes ago. How does it feel now?," Donna asks Brandee about her experience during the infusion. "I don't have one now," she answers.
After six treatments, Brandee hopes for a miracle cure.
"Like a magic bullet, everything's gonna be great after that,?" Donna says. "Suppose to be," says Brandee.
But maybe not.
"Is it a Band-Aid?," Donna asks Dr. Reding. "It may be, but it's a Band-Aid that allows your body to start working again," he tells her.
And with counseling, a short time of relief, could help control a lifetime of mental pain.
Watch the web extra below to hear more from Dr. Michael Reding on ketamine use in treating depression and anxiety.
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