While it sounds too remarkable to believe, recent scientific studies have shown that ketamine — an anesthetic drug used in human and veterinarian medicine — does indeed effectively treat severe depression. And it takes effect within two hours.
Ketamine is not a new drug. Researchers at the Connecticut Medical Health Center analyzed ketamine’s effectiveness as an anti-depressant nearly 10 years ago. Further studies at that time were not conducted, perhaps because ketamine requires intravenous injections administered under medical supervision. Cases of ketamine triggering temporary psychotic episodes in some patients also may have contributed to the halt in research.
Research into ketamine and its effect on depression has accelerated in recent years. Medical experts are now trying to determine the best way to utilize ketamine’s therapeutic properties without stimulating unwanted side effects.
Mending Chronic Depression
The Aug. 20, 2010 online edition of Science journal reported the findings of a ketamine study conducted at Yale University. Dr. Ronald Duman and his team discovered that a single treatment of ketamine not only eliminated depression in lab animals, but also repaired connections between damaged neurons that had been harmed by chronic depression and stress. This process, dubbed “synaptogenesis” by Duman and his team, points to a long-term benefit of ketamine, even though the effects of ketamine on animals lasted only 10 days or less.
Duman’s study also demonstrated ketamine’s ability to work with remarkable speed. Human trials confirm such findings: Two-thirds of patients diagnosed with previously untreatable depression react positively to ketamine treatment within just a few hours.
While ketamine’s effects have been shown to deliver short-term benefits only, medical experts are hopeful that with a bit of tinkering, ketamine can be converted into a form yielding more long-lasting benefits.
Dr. David Feifel, director of the Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Program at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), explains that all patients given only a single ketamine injection eventually relapse, but notes that researchers are developing several different methods to remedy this issue. One such fix is a ketamine regimen consisting of a series of injections delivered over several weeks, similar to the way people receive electroconvulsive therapy.
A recent study showed a 100 percent success rate from a single dose of ketamine. Dr. Carlos Zarate Jr., chief of the Section on the Neurobiology and Treatment of Mood Disorders and chief of Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch (ETPB) at the National Institute of Mental Health, studied 17 patients diagnosed with severe, treatment-resistant depression.
When participants filled out the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale 110 minutes after one ketamine treatment, they all reported a decrease in depression. Seventy-one percent reported a substantial decrease in symptoms after 24 hours, and 29 percent of patients confirmed that they were completely free of depression after one week.
While Zarate’s study does not keep track of participants’ progress after one week, the rapidity and benefit which ketamine treatment provides is undeniable. Experts agree that more research needs to be conducted to capitalize on ketamine’s effects and promise as an anti-depressant.
Discovering a safe and easy-to-administer version of ketamine could provide quick relief to depressed people who have not responded to conventional treatment techniques. Candidates for ketamine treatment include people who suffer from suicidal or violent thoughts. Due to its speedy action, ketamine may alleviate symptoms that would otherwise take weeks, months or years to treat.
Recognizing the capabilities of this unconventional drug, doctors have begun using ketamine as a viable treatment option. Even though ketamine is not yet an approved medicine, treatment centers across the Nation now administer ketamine injections to extremely ill patients who have exhausted other treatment options.