February 10, 2012

DEPRESSION: Is Ketamine Really the BIG Breakthrough?

On Thursday, February 3, Diane Sawyer aired a report on ABC News about the drug ketamine, and its potential for rapidly treating deep depression. In the piece, a medical expert made an amazing claim -- that ketamine could represent the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of depression in 50 years.

The most common current drug therapies for depression, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) -- like Prozac, Celexa, Luvox, Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro – typically take weeks before patients begin benefiting from the drugs’ therapeutic effects. Those pills work by eventually blocking the brain’s absorbtion of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which facilitates the normal firing of synapses, and affects mood.

Here’s the major issue with SSRIs: during the time it takes for them to become effective, patients may become MORE suicidal. Dr. Ken Robbins, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains:
Sometimes what happens is that a person’s energy improves before their mood improves. So if you still feel horribly depressed and hopeless, but have a return of your energy, your risk of being suicidal increases. If it pans out that a shot of ketamine will temporarily pull someone out of their depression, that would still be incredibly helpful. If someone is feeling horrible to the point where you’re concerned they’re suicidal, this could fill the time lapse that regular anti-depressants take to kick in.
Studies are underway. Researchers at Houston’s Ben Taub General Hospital are testing the drug’s short-term effects after a single intravenous dose. If results look promising, those researchers will begin a second test – administering ketamine three times a week, to test its effectiveness over longer periods.

The drug has been used for a long time in hospitals as an anesthetic. Recently, it has made its way onto the streets, where it is known as “Special K.”

Here’s a slightly shaky clip from that ABC News report:

So often, we see exciting claims about new therapies, and the pulse quickens. We’re at the very beginning of this story, and I’ll follow developments with interest.


debbie said...

what drug was this young man using before the drug ketermine

John said...

Hi Debbie -- I think the young man had tried most therapies, with little effect. Here's what I found on CBS's online page, HealthPop: "Ketamine works differently than other antidepressants. While pills like Prozac boost the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin to make people feel less depressed over a period of time, an injection of ketamine works on an entirely different neurotransmitter, glutamate. It blocks the receptors critical for receiving glutamate's signals which quickly improves the brain cell's electrical flow. That in turn reduces depression, according to the NIMH."
Best wishes,  John