There is an unconventional new treatment that is capable of eliminating severe depression in under 2 hours.
As surprising as that claim may be, it’s completely accurate. Recent research into the potential of ketamine — an anesthetic recently publicized for its popularity as a recreational drug — has produced incredible results supporting its effectiveness as a treatment for severe depression.
The focus on ketamine for depression is not new. Almost 10 years ago, scientists at the Connecticut Medical Health Center observed ketamine’s apparent ability in eliminating depression. But research since then has been limited. Part of the problem is that ketamine must be administered intravenously under medical supervision. Another concern is that the treatment has caused short-term psychotic symptoms in some subjects.
But the latest research conducted within the last year indicates that the benefits of ketamine justify the challenge of determining how best to adapt it to eliminating depression.
Ketamine Repairs Damage from Chronic Depression and Stress — Fast!
One of the most important studies on ketamine and depression was performed at Yale University and published in the online edition of the journal Science on August 20, 2010. Senior author Dr. Ronald Duman and his team found that one dose of ketamine not only improved the depressive symptoms of the rats used for the study, but also induced an important process known as “synaptogenesis.”
Synaptogenesis is actually the term the team coined to describe ketamine’s amazing ability to restore connections between neurons that were damaged by long-term depression and chronic stress.
Duman’s study also documented a very exciting facet of ketamine treatment: its speed. Studies have consistently shown over 2/3 of patients with historically untreatable depression to respond positively to ketamine within hours. And for the rats in Duman’s study, the effects lasted for 7 to 10 days.
Can Ketamine Be Effective Long-Term?
The one-week duration of that study’s follow-up period points to another hurdle on the track to widespread ketamine treatment — that is, that ketamine has not yet been shown to have long-lasting effects.
In fact, Dr. David Feifel, a Professor of Psychiatry at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Director of the Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Program at UCSD Medical Center, says he expects that all patients who are given only a single ketamine injection will eventually relapse.
It is very important to note, though, that Feifel says there are already a number of interesting methods evolving to address this problem, such as giving multiple injections over a series of weeks, similar to how electroconvulsive therapy is applied.
A Treatment that Might Completely Eliminate Depression
A recent study conducted by Dr. Carlos Zarate, Jr., chief of the Mood Disorders Research Unit at the National Institute of Mental Health, tracked the effects of a single injection of ketamine on 17 participants diagnosed with treatment-resistant major depression.
The participants filled out a 21-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale 110 minutes after their injection, and again at 24 hours, and one week after. The study showed a statistically relevant drop after 110 minutes, and after 24 hours, the symptoms of 71% of the participants had been significantly reduced and the symptoms of 29% of the participants had been completely eliminated.
That means all 17 participants obtained significant relief from depression — a 100% success rate from a single injection!
In keeping with Feifel’s observation about longevity of results, Zarate’s study makes no mention of the benefits of the treatment lasting longer than one week. However, the rapidity of the results found by Zarate and upheld by other researchers is the aspect of ketamine that many scientists believe needs more research.
If a safe and easily administered version of ketamine is developed, it will fulfill the hope that’s already been raised for the approximately 40% of those suffering from depression whose symptoms don’t respond to established methods of treatment. And it could also bring faster relief to those whose depression is only alleviated after months or even years of treatment.
One extremely beneficial way to take advantage of ketamine’s rapid effects against depression might be to administer it to people suffering from suicidal thoughts who typically only respond after weeks of treatment with traditional drugs.
Even now, ketamine is being used in some facilities including the UCSD Medical Center where Dr. Feifel works. Although ketamine is not yet an approved medicine, UCSD offers intravenous ketamine infusions for patients who are extremely ill and have no other options.