Sept. 12, 2022 -- People with treatment-resistant depression showed fewer symptoms of depression, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety after receiving injections of ketamine, a study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry says.

Ketamine is an FDA-approved anesthetic for use in hospitals and is used illegally as a party drug because of its disassociative effects. For years, medical specialists have noticed the drug sometimes helps people who have depression.

The recent study involved 424 people who had not responded fully to other treatments for depression, such as antidepressants. They received starting doses of six infusions of ketamine within three weeks at clinics in Virginia, CNN reported.

Within six weeks, half the participants had responded, and 20% reported their depression symptoms were in remission, CNN said. After 10 infusions, they reported response and remission rates of 72% and 38%, respectively.

About 50% of participants with suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide, were in remission after six weeks. People with anxiety reported a 30% reduction in symptoms during the study.

“Ketamine was effective at reducing symptoms of SI (suicide ideation), depression, and anxiety. The high rates of response and remission were similar to those for interventional treatments in community samples of TRD (treatment-resistant depression),” the researchers concluded.

One study participant, 52-year-old Jason Anthony, told The Washington Post that he had trouble leaving his bed because of depression.

“All of a sudden, you wake up and realize what you haven’t been feeling for 15 years,” he said.

Researchers noted the study had limitations. It didn’t have a control group, responses were self-reported, and side-effects were systematically assessed, CNN said.

Patrick Oliver, the study’s lead researcher, told The Post that the study shows ketamine has the potential to help depressed and suicidal people on a widespread basis.

“It’s an epidemic, and it’s been going on forever,” said Oliver, referring to suicide. “And we’ve found a medication that literally costs pennies to make and is fixing these patients.”

The FDA has approved Spravato (esketamine) nasal spray, in conjunction with an oral antidepressant, for the treatment of depression in adults who have treatment-resistant depression. Because of the risk of serious adverse outcomes resulting from sedation and dissociation caused by Spravato administration, and the potential for abuse and misuse of the drug, it is only available through a restricted distribution system, under a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy.

Show Sources

The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Clinical Effectiveness of Intravenous Racemic Ketamine Infusions in a Large Community Sample of Patients With Treatment-Resistant Depression, Suicidal Ideation, and Generalized Anxiety Symptoms: A Retrospective Chart Review”

 

CNN: “Ketamine infusions improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, study says”

 

The Washington Post: “Nothing seemed to treat their depression. Then they tried ketamine.”

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