Ketamine is a fast-acting liquid anesthetic used mainly by veterinarians; it's also used in human medicine, even in children, because it doesn't depress breathing.Researchers at Yale University have discovered that a single dose of ketamine helps the brain to form new synaptic connections between neurons and can begin to relieve depressive symptoms in a little as 40 minutes.
It's also an illegal club drug, known as "special K" or "vitamin K."
The street version is usually sold in a powder form that can be snorted or mixed into drinks, or dissolved into a liquid and injected.
It acts like LSD, causing vivid hallucinations in users and a sensation of floating outside their bodies.
In contrast, Prozac and other types of antidepressants can take anywhere from two weeks to a full month before they start to demonstrate any real results, in which benefits can only be seen in about a third of patients. This new antidepressant is now being tested in Canada with promising results.
Dr. James Kennedy, director of the neuroscience research department at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto states that ketamine might alleviate what has been known as a “major clinical problem”. The 2 - 4 weeks that patients await relief is a critical time where devastating outcomes, such as suicide, can occur because they begin to feel more energetic but depressive symptoms remain. Not only is there hope for those with difficult to treat depression, ketamine could actually save lives.
Earlier studies involving patients with "treatment-resistant" depression have found that those given a single dose of ketamine experience rapid and significant improvement in symptoms.In addition to being fast-acting, studies show that relief can last for 7 – 10 days, according to professor of psychiatry and neurobiology at Yale, Ronald Duman, who calls ketamine a “magic drug”.
In a small study published earlier this month on patients with bipolar depression, 71 per cent of participants responded to ketamine versus six per cent who responded to placebo.
Duman also believes that this so-called magic drug may be able to reverse the effects of stress on the brain by repairing damaged connections between neurons caused by chronic stress.
Although ketamine may not be the ideal long-term solution for treating depression, it could certainly lead to the development of similar compounds that may produce the same effect, but can be more easily administered with less potential for abuse.
"Imagine someone who is in the ER (emergency department) and is highly suicidal. It would be a way to decrease the suicidal risk" says Dr. Pierre Blier, director of mood disorders research at the Institute of Mental Health Research and Canada Research Chair in Psychopharmacology at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, who has started using ketamine on some of his patients.
'Magic drug' gives hope to bipolar patients - Ketamine is mainly used as an anesthetic by vets but shows promise in treating depression