Ketamine Could Be Used to Treat Depression, Study Says

Forty-two percent of participants with severe depression responded well to the ketamine treatment under a new study from Oxford University.

Joe Bish

Joe Bish

Ketamine really is the drug with more surprises up its sleeve than any other. If you think K is something troubled emo kids snort so they can have a couple hours of terrifying introspection at a house party, you'd be right. But it's so much more than that. Oxford University recognizes that, too.

Ketamine is an anesthetic drug mainly used on horses as a tranquilizer. It is also, due to its low price, used in poorer countries as a painkiller and general anesthetic. And now, according to a recent study at Oxford University, it can also be used to treat depression. Forty-two percent of those treated with ketamine are said to have responded well to it. These are also people whose depression is considered to be resistant to treatment, so those conducting the study are hailing the results as a triumph.

Dr. Rupert McShane, consultant psychiatrist at Oxford Health National Health Service Foundation Trust and leader of the study, was pleased with the results, saying, "I have seen ketamine work where nothing else has helped before."

He wanted to make sure, however, that it isn't seen in too positive of a light. "Ketamine is a drug, not a miracle," he told the Sun. "Maintaining the benefit is a challenge."

In terms of recreational legality, ketamine is, along with speed and weed, a class B drug in the UK. However, it is licensed as an anesthetic medicine and can be used in certain trials and studies. A doctor can also prescribe it. Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is even jumping on the ketamine bandwagon, currently trialling a ketamine nasal spray for depression.

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Patients in the study had the drug intravenously administered for 40 minutes twice a week. "Getting the right level of oversight is important," McShane said. "Not enough, and we risk overuse and an inevitable backlash; too much, and we leave patients in misery unnecessarily."

Ketamine has properties that affect the way in which the brain perceives memory and emotion. It's because of this that it's also being used to help heavy drinkers cut down on their alcohol intake. By removing some of the positive associations with alcohol from their memories via ketamine, the desire to drink would be drastically lessened, or so it's hoped. A similar effect could take place in the brain of a depressed patient.

It's still too early to know whether ketamine can be a truly effective battler of depression, but as Professor Allan Young of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said, "There are still significant gaps in our knowledge about dosage levels, treatment protocols, and the effectiveness and safety of long-term use."

"Before ketamine can be recommended for use in clinical practice, extensive research is required to understand how to optimally use ketamine for treating depression."

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