Ketamine possible new treatment for depression

Every once in a while a new treatment comes into the research pipeline that has exciting possibilities to really change the way we can deal with a particular disorder.

Sometimes it's a medication with a totally different mechanism or that affects the body in a different way or is vastly more effective than anything used before. When we're not simply tweaking an existing strategy, medical research is truly at its most fascinating.

Right now a new antidepressant is being researched in Canada and the US that has the potential to be such a boon to the treatment of this chronic condition.

Doctors at Yale University discovered that small doses of ketamine can have remarkably good results in treating depression and can have several positive effects not possible with any other current antidepressants.

Ketamine is a fast acting liquid anaesthetic used primarily by veterinarians but also in humans as it does not depress breathing like some other anaesthetics. This drug also has some notoriety in powder form as an illegal club drug known as special k or vitamin k, in this form it is often snorted or stirred into drinks and causes hallucinations and sensations of floating outside of one's body.

In much smaller does, ketamine can significantly reduce symptoms of depression within 40 minutes in even treatment resistant cases and lasts for seven to 10 days. Current antidepressants take two to three weeks to begin their effect so a fast-acting option is a really exciting development. For example, this would be incredibly helpful in hospital situations with patients who are acutely suicidal.

Early research has also found that a dose of ketamine works to increase connections between brain cells. The drug also repaired connections between neurons damaged by chronic stress. Since neurons can atrophy and shrink in response to chronic stress, it is interesting to learn there may be a way to reverse the effects this has on the brain.

In a recent small study of ketamine used in patients with bipolar depression, 71 percent of participants responded to ketamine compared to only six percent response to placebo.

While these initial findings are promising, there is much research yet to be done before ketamine becomes a standard in the treatment of depression.

Larger scale studies will have to be done to confirm its safety and effectiveness. Another goal of research will be to find a compound similar to ketamine in its positive effects and rapid onset, but without the potential for abuse. The team at Yale is currently testing several such compounds. In the meantime, research and small-scale use of ketamine continue.

Although ketamine is not currently being tested at Okanagan Clinical Trials, we do have several ongoing studies examining investigational medications to possibly treat depression. If you are an adult experiencing depression, you may be eligible to participate. Contact us at 250 862-8141 for more information.


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