Ketamine: a Miracle Antidepressant?

The Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston, Texas recently released information about the “club drug” Ketamine, that is most widely used as an anesthetic, stating that it can quickly relieve symptomsof major depressive disorder.

Ketamine, before this miraculous discovery, was mostly used as a recreational drug under the nicknames “Special K” or just plain “K.” When used illicitly, Ketamine can cause a temporary episode of psychosis, including hallucinations and a dissociative state of mind.

When administered intravenously by a doctor, Ketamine is a very powerful new tool, fighting depression in some patients in as little as 40 minutes and lasting anywhere from one to two weeks. This is very different from the traditional antidepressant, which takes anywhere from two to four weeks to fully take effect, and could increase suicidal thoughts in children, teens, and young adults.

“This is supposed to help for a couple months. The study is still under way, so it’s hard for us to know now how long the effects will last. Will it cure depression for a year or longer? I don’t think so. But we’re hoping it will work for a few months in the second trial,” said Dr. Asim Shah, who directs the mood disorder program at Ben Taub General Hospital.

This new use for Ketamine gives a lot of people who were helpless and hopeless, hope again. For the 40 percent of individuals who did not respond to traditional antidepressants, those used in inhibiting serotonin and norepinephrine, Ketamine seems to work wonders for them on the first dose. Now, patients such as these can see a doctor on a weekly, or biweekly basis and get relief from their depression.

A bottle of liquid Ketamine before it is administered to a patient.

Researchers at Yale University have identified the chemical pathway and key enzyme involved in Ketamine’s actual restoration of connections between brain cells. The enzyme is called mTOR, and it is critical in the synthesis the nerve cells need to repair at their synapses. This raises a couple questions: Does this mean that Ketamine can also prevent relapse in those with depression? And, does this mean that those synapses are permanently fixed?

Senior author Dr Ronald Duman, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Yale University and a team of colleagues, tested the drug on rat’s depression-like behavior and found it to drastically improve their behavior. As stated above, he also found that it restored connections between neurons or brain cells that had been damaged by chronic stress.

It is a doctor’s hope that this temporary relief from depression will give patients enough courage and faith that they can, too, get better.


By: Christina Paone

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