Could Ketamine Be Used To Treat Depression?

Researchers may have found a surprising treatment for depression…ketamine.

NPR reports that the drug is being used for depression in an experiment at the NeuroPsychiatric Center next to Ben Taub hospital.

Ketamine is most commonly known as an anesthetic, a horse and cat tranquilizer, and for its recreational use in rave culture (usually combined with other drugs). Its (rather stupid, by most people’s estimation) recreational use may be an impediment to it being used as an antidepressant in the future (since anything that is used recreationally has its share of knee-jerk detractors, who claim its medical use will inevitably lead to increased abuse — think marijuana). It also won’t help that one of the stupidest pieces of shit to ever live was recently arrested for ketamine possession.

Researchers are excited because ketamine treats depression in a unique way, and seems to help patients who are resistant to other treatments. Unlike traditional antidepressants (which boost serotonin levels and gradually stimulate the birth of new neurons), ketamine activates the glutamate system in the brain and, according to Yale researcher Ron Duman, rapidly increases the communication among existing neurons by creating new neural connections. While traditional antidepressants take weeks or even months to treat depression, ketamine is fast-acting.

The fact that it is fast acting may also mean it can be used to treat episodes of suicidal depression in depressed patients — in which case traditional antidepressants, and pretty much any other treatment for that matter, are completely ineffective. That is, patients on traditional SSRI medication who still have bouts of severe, suicidal depression may be able to treat these episodes with ketamine.

Obviously, there is much research yet to be done to determine whether ketamine can be used to treat depression, either in place of, or in addition to, existing medication. There are plenty of detractors, some of whom cite ketamine as an addictive substance. (This may be true in recreational doses, but doses used in studies to treat depression are much smaller.) Others point to potential side effects and liver damage, although traditional antidepressants aren’t exactly good for you either. For many though, including those suffering from depression and resistant to traditional treatment, as well as those prone to suicidal episodes, the studies offer a glimmer of hope.

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Erik Oster is an Assistant Editor at The Faster Times and a writer, editor and musician from Fairfield County, Connecticut. After graduating Goucher College in 2008 with a degree in creative writing, ...read more

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