Carefully controlled doses of ketamine CAN control depression: Study shows 40% of patients treated with drug had symptoms disappear, with 70% enjoying improvements in mood
While its use as an antidepressant may be controversial among health experts and regulators, the anesthetic drug ketamine has shown great affect as an antidepressant in recent trials - potentially even curing the disease in some.
Researchers at MindPeace Clinics, a ketamine therapy clinic in Arlington, Virginia - just outside of Washington D.C., found that more than 70 percent of patients who used the drug had improvements to their mood, with 40 percent reporting no symptoms of depression after 10 routine infusions of the drug.
The study adds to growing evidence that ketamine - along with other - psychedelic drugs - could be effective treatments for mental health conditions like depression. While some clinics do use the drug off-label, which is legal but not recommended, some experts say that the relief from depression provided by ketamine is fast and short - while typical antidepressants take longer to provide relief but are more long lasting once they do.
This research team is hopeful that ketamine can help patients that do not have much luck with anti-depressants, and also provide quick short-term relief to sufferers who are in a more dire mental state.
Researchers, who published their findings Monday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, gathered 400 participants for the study.
Each member of the study had previously tried another form of medical treatment for their depression or suicidal ideation.
They were each offered six infusions of 0.5 milligrams each within each 21 day period.
Participants then reported whether they still felt symptoms of depression, and to what severity.
After ten infusions of the drug, 72 percent of participants had reported some sort of reduction in the severity of depression. For 40 percent of patients, they no longer felt symptoms at all.
Researchers are hopeful that their drug could help cure what they describe as an 'epidemic' of mental health problems in the U.S.
'It's an epidemic, and it's been going on forever,' Dr Patrick Oliver, medical director at MindPeace and lead author of the study, told the Washington Post.
'And we've found a medication that literally costs pennies to make and is fixing these patients.'
There are some limitations to their findings, though. Each of these patients self-selected to take part in the study, indicating that they may be more comfortable using this type of drug than the average person.
There was no control group either and researchers did not track potential adverse events as a result of the infusions.
Use of the drug can be jarring as well. While every anti-depressant has some sort of side-effects, ketamine is significantly stronger than others.
Carl Montalbano, 67, was a part of the MindPeace study. He told the Post that the drug is a 'shotgun approach' to antidepressants - saying that other more typical forms of treatment for the condition did not help him.
Ketamine is most well know for its elicit use as a party drug. It is considered to be a dissociative drug, making users feel detached from reality.
Montalbano reported that receiving the drug felt unlike anything he had experienced before, describing swirls of red and blue colors like he was looking at 'cosmos'.
'I would not do this if I didn't have to... It's not fun. It's therapeutic, and it works,' he added.
Ketamine clinics are beginning to emerge across the country, with many who either can not access or did not have good luck with typical antidepressants turning to the alternative treatment.
The drug is approved as an anesthetic, but there is a large research gap in whether or not it is actually effective for mental health symptoms.
'For many years, several key leaders in the field have been calling for a registry to collect data on the use of ketamine for mood disorders,' Dr Samuel Wilkinson, a psychiatry expert at Yale University, wrote in a response to the findings.
'Unfortunately, no funding or accreditation body has stepped forward to take on this challenge.
'Short of this, reports like the one from Oliver and colleagues are the next best thing. The field would benefit from additional reports from similar groups and clinics that provide racemic ketamine on a clinical basis.'
Ketamine is not the only psychedelic drug being tested as a mental health treatment as well.
Psilocybin, of 'magic mushrooms' as they are often dubbed, have been found to be able to treat major depression by recent studies.
The drug has also shown promise in helping alcoholics quit their dangerous habit.