Image Credit: The Guardian
Multiple news sources (NPR, Fox, CBS) are reporting that a recent medical study has shown that ketamine, an already approved FDA anesthetic, can help cure severe depression.
The Oxford University study shows that patients that were not responsive to traditional anti-depressants showed positive results after just a few days of ketamine treatment. Current approved drugs can take upwards of thirty days to take effect.
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In the study, 28 patients who suffered from depression received three or six ketamine infusions over three weeks. They then had their moods monitored for at least six months.
A third of the patients showed improvement as soon as three days after the last infusion, with effects lasting anywhere from 25 days to eight months. Four of those patients are continuing ketamine treatment, and one has reported no symptoms of depression even after having been taken off the treatment.
The reason why? They go on to say "ketamine appears to strengthen brain circuits by causing a rapid proliferation of new connections, or synapses, between neurons. This gets the job done much more quickly."
These results are very preliminary, as there are quite a few hurdles to overcome before ketamine is accepted as an effective treatment. First, the effects are generally brief. Second, there are several risks associated with taking the drug, especially over an extended period of time. These included hallucinations, a reduction of cognitive ability, and nerve cell changes related to toxicity.
For the most part, ketamine therapy has been restricted to inpatient programs, as there is some concern with those suffering from depression taking the drug at home without supervision.
In reference to the Oxford study the lead psychiatrist Dr. Rupert McShane says "We were pleased that ketamine appears to be safe in this population. But this should not be done outside a medical setting."
At they very least the results are encouraging, and will almost certainly lead to further research. As for ketamine becoming a legal "party drug"? Don't get your hopes up.