One doctor calls it “75 percent effective.”
Ketamine, or “special K,” as it’s affectionately known among ravers, has been used as a party drug since the ’60s. It causes relaxation and vivid hallucinations, and users who take too much fall into a knocked-out state known as a “K-hole.” It also has been used in emergency rooms to help people in extreme pain, and in veterinary centers as an anesthetic.
As this recent article in The Washington Post explores, the drug may offer many more medical benefits than previously known. In the past decade, doctors have been experimenting with the drug to treat severely depressed patients who most thought couldn’t be helped. Ketamine has been so successful at helping people who had experienced little improvement through antidepressants and psychotherapy that the American Psychiatric Association may soon endorse it for use in cases of treatment-resistant depression.
Ketamine has been unusually effective in treating patients contemplating suicide, thanks to its fast-acting antidepressant effect. These effects are known to last much longer than the initial dosing. News of ketamine’s success has created excitement among people who have spent years cycling through antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and cognitive therapies with little success.
Enrique Abreu, an Oregon anesthesiologist, has seen very positive results over the past few years. “The response rate is unbelievable,” Abreu told The Washington Post. “This drug is 75 percent effective, which means that three-quarters of my patients do well. Nothing in medicine has those kind of numbers.” Ketamine is successful with patients who haven’t responded to traditional treatments because it works differently. “Ketamine almost certainly modifies the function of synapses and circuits, turning certain circuits on and off,” explained Carlos Zarate Jr., a leading ketamine researcher. “The result is a rapid antidepressant effect.”
Although ketamine’s future looks bright, there’s still more research to be done. Gerard Sanacora, director of the Yale Depression Research Program, told the Post that it may take awhile before they better understand the long-term benefits and risks. Currently, ketamine is approved by the FDA, and doctors are able to prescribe it for off-label use.
(H/T The Washington Post)