Long COVID Relief from Ketamine Infusion

Ketamine Infusion for the Long Covid Patients


Long Covid presents a complex clinical picture characterized by persistent symptoms following the acute phase of infection. This condition has emerged as a significant public health concern, affecting millions of people in the United States and challenging the medical community’s understanding of post-viral syndromes. But amidst this battle, we’ve stumbled upon a glimmer of hope: ketamine. Yes, the same ketamine known for its use in anesthesia and, more recently, in treating depression. But could it really be the key to unlocking long COVID’s mysteries? Let’s dive deeper.

Understanding Long COVID

The Clinical Landscape of Post-COVID Syndrome

Long COVID, also known as Post Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), affects people who had mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms initially but then face prolonged recovery or develop new symptoms over months. The underlying cause of Long COVID symptoms is thought to be related to an imbalance in the body’s immune system caused by COVID-19. This imbalance leads to excessive inflammation throughout the body due to the release of inflammatory substances called cytokines.
This chronic inflammation can disrupt the normal functioning of brain cells and lead to the formation of tiny blood clots, reducing blood flow to various parts of the body, which might result in symptoms like severe fatigue, “brain fog,” joint pain, and issues with the digestive and nervous systems. The symptoms of Long COVID share many similarities with those of chronic fatigue syndrome, suggesting that the persistent inflammation might also affect how genes work in the immune system, possibly making some individuals more prone to autoimmune diseases.
The theory suggests that using ketamine, which has anti-inflammatory properties, could help manage the inflammation associated with Long COVID, potentially easing symptoms by reducing the excessive immune response and inflammation.

Understanding the Prolonged Battle: The Impact of COVID-19 on Inflammatory Responses and Long COVID Challenges

Research has found that COVID-19, whether mild or severe, can trigger a strong inflammatory response in the body, marked by high levels of certain inflammatory molecules like IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α. This response is usually a normal reaction to infection, but the virus has mechanisms to avoid initial defense responses, leading to prolonged and sometimes abnormal inflammation.
In people with Long COVID, this inflammation continues well after the acute infection phase, with studies indicating an ongoing imbalance in several inflammatory markers, such as IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α, for months. This occurs even though these markers don’t necessarily need to circulate in the blood to be effective, suggesting a localized response contributing to persistent symptoms.
The body’s exaggerated immune response to the virus, known as a “Cytokine Storm,” is particularly noted in severe COVID-19 cases, causing high levels of inflammation that can lead to critical conditions like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). This condition often requires intensive care and has a high mortality rate, illustrating the serious consequences of an uncontrolled immune response.
The ongoing immune activation seen in Long COVID patients indicates a unique and prolonged struggle against the aftermath of the infection, differing significantly from the acute phase. This chronic state of heightened immune response may explain the persistent and diverse symptoms experienced by these individuals.
The complexity of the inflammatory response in both the acute and long-term phases of COVID-19 highlights the intricate interplay between the virus, the body’s immune system, and the resulting health challenges. It underscores the need for targeted treatments that can address both the immediate and prolonged effects of COVID-19 on the body.

Epidemiological Insights

Research indicates a substantial fraction of COVID-19 survivors experience long COVID symptoms, underscoring the urgency in addressing this condition. The demographic distribution of long COVID spans across age groups and pre-existing health conditions, highlighting the indiscriminate nature of post-viral syndromes.

Ketamine: Therapeutic Mechanisms and Applications

Historical and Contemporary Use

Ketamine, a NMDA receptor antagonist, has been extensively used for its anesthetic properties. Recent advancements have expanded its application to treating mood disorders, leveraging its neuroplasticity-promoting effects. The anti-inflammatory properties of ketamine have also garnered attention, suggesting a potential therapeutic role in inflammatory conditions, including long COVID.
Mechanistic Insights
Ketamine, a drug commonly used during surgeries, has been found to have some interesting effects on our body’s defense system against infections and injuries. It seems to be able to calm down the initial stages of inflammation, which is our body’s way of responding to threats like infections. Specifically, ketamine appears to reduce the production of certain molecules called cytokines that usually make inflammation worse. What’s even more intriguing is that ketamine seems to work best if it’s given before the inflammation starts, like when it’s used before surgery.
Apart from calming down inflammation, ketamine also seems to have an effect on another molecule called nitric oxide, which plays a role in inflammation too. Ketamine slows down the production of nitric oxide, which in turn helps to lower the release of other molecules that make inflammation worse. So, essentially, ketamine seems to have this neat ability to both tone down inflammation and reduce the production of molecules that make it worse, which could be really useful in controlling our body’s responses to injury or infection.
Ketamine’s impact on other factors involved in inflammation, such as the movement of certain immune cells called leukocytes and the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells, has garnered attention. While opioids, often used alongside ketamine during anesthesia, can reduce NK cell activity, ketamine itself appears to have little effect on NK cell function. Moreover, ketamine seems to promote the resolution of inflammation by encouraging the programmed death of inflammatory cells, a process known as apoptosis. This resolution involves various cellular mechanisms, including the clearance of inflammatory cells from tissues. Ketamine’s regulatory role is evident here too: it promotes apoptosis in certain immune cells while simultaneously reducing the release of pro-inflammatory molecules by these cells. This dual action highlights ketamine’s complex yet ultimately beneficial role in regulating inflammation.

Ketamine has diverse effects that can help calm inflammation early on. It seems to do this by blocking a key player in inflammation called NF-kB, which usually starts the inflammatory process. One way it might do this is by interfering with how our body detects early signs of inflammation, like when it encounters certain bacterial parts. Although we’re still figuring out exactly how ketamine works on certain brain receptors, we know it can help reduce pain and other responses linked to inflammation.
Another way ketamine helps is by activating receptors for a molecule called adenosine, especially the A2a type. This seems to turn down inflammation by stopping NF-kB activity. Ketamine also affects enzymes involved in making inflammatory substances from fats, potentially easing inflammation without disrupting the body’s natural healing process. Additionally, it blocks alternative routes that trigger inflammation, showing it can intervene at different points in the inflammatory process.
Ketamine also interacts with other systems in the body, like certain channels and enzymes, to calm inflammation. Although these interactions are mainly studied in the brain, they might have implications for easing inflammation throughout the body. Overall, while we’re learning more about how ketamine fights inflammation, more research is needed to fully understand its benefits and how it could be used to treat inflammatory conditions.

Clinical Evidence: Ketamine Infusion for Long COVID

Current Research and Findings

Although research is in nascent stages, preliminary studies and clinical observations suggest that ketamine infusion therapy may offer symptomatic relief for patients with long COVID. The anti-inflammatory and neuroregenerative properties of ketamine are hypothesized to play a role in mitigating the persistent symptoms associated with long COVID.

Patient Experiences: Case Studies
Clinical Case Reports

This case report explores the potential of intranasal ketamine as a treatment for the psychiatric symptoms associated with long COVID (Baldwin et al., [publication year]). The authors present a case study involving a patient who experienced significant psychiatric complications following COVID-19 infection, including anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment. Traditional treatments failed to alleviate the symptoms adequately, prompting the exploration of intranasal ketamine as an alternative therapeutic approach.
The patient, a 52-year-old woman, received intranasal ketamine treatments over a six-week period. The treatment regimen involved gradual dose escalation, with ketamine administered twice weekly, resulting in notable improvements in the patient’s psychiatric symptoms. Specifically, the patient reported decreased anxiety and depression levels, along with improved cognitive function. These positive outcomes suggest that intranasal ketamine may hold promise as a potential treatment for the psychiatric manifestations of long COVID, offering relief where conventional therapies fall short.
Overall, this case report highlights the potential of ketamine as a novel therapeutic option for addressing the psychiatric complications of long COVID.

I’d like to share the case of Noel, a woman in her early 50s who has been grappling with Long COVID for the past two years following a moderate bout of the virus. Before COVID, she led an active lifestyle, managing a successful business, exercising daily, and raising two children. However, her COVID infection was significant, lasting about two weeks and leaving her with persistent symptoms that worsened over time. These included body aches, intermittent fevers, and debilitating headaches, leading to multiple hospitalizations for severe migraines. She also experienced severe post-exertional fatigue, forcing her to give up her workout routine and close her business, alongside troubling brain fog and memory issues. Despite previous management of her depression and anxiety with short courses of medication, she found herself battling worsening depression and suicidal thoughts over the past two years.
Noel sought help from numerous specialists treating Long COVID, trying various medications like blood thinners and steroids, but saw little improvement. When she came to my office, she expressed interest in ketamine infusions for her depression. Over the course of six two-hour sessions, she received ketamine alongside lidocaine, which also has anti-inflammatory properties. Remarkably, Noel experienced a complete remission of her suicidal thoughts and a near-complete resolution of her depression. For the first time in two years, she felt hopeful. Additionally, her headaches, body aches, fatigue, and brain fog vanished after the infusions. She regained the ability to walk several miles and do household chores without overwhelming exhaustion. While she still struggles with post-exertional fatigue, her improved mental state has empowered her to consider reopening her business—a feat she hadn’t dared to contemplate for the past two years.

Anecdotal evidence from patients undergoing ketamine infusion for long COVID symptoms has been positive, with individuals reporting improvements in fatigue, cognitive function, and overall quality of life. Such case reports are instrumental in guiding further clinical research and understanding the potential of ketamine therapy in long COVID management.

The Treatment Process: Considerations and Protocols
Safety Profile and Patient Counseling

Ketamine’s safety profile is well-established, with transient side effects such as disorientation and nausea being the most commonly reported. Patients considering ketamine infusion should be thoroughly counseled on the potential benefits and risks, ensuring informed decision-making.

Towards a New Therapeutic Horizon

The exploration of ketamine infusion therapy for long COVID represents a promising avenue in addressing the multifaceted symptoms of this condition. While further research is essential to fully understand its efficacy and mechanisms of action, ketamine presents a novel potential intervention for patients experiencing prolonged post-COVID symptoms. As the medical community continues to tackle long COVID, ketamine infusion therapy may emerge as a valuable tool in the therapeutic arsenal. Healthcare professionals and researchers must continue to investigate the potential of ketamine infusion therapy for long COVID, with a focus on conducting rigorous clinical trials to establish evidence-based guidelines for its use. Collaboration across disciplines will be key in developing comprehensive care strategies for patients affected by long COVID, ultimately enhancing patient outcomes and quality of life.