Ketamine: The New “Miracle” for Depression?

Although it is known among the general population mostly as a popular party drug, ketamine was originally invented in a commercial laboratory in 1962.  In 1970, it was approved by the FDA for use as an anesthetic among soldiers in the Vietnam War. Non-medical use of ketamine began in the U.S. at roughly the same time, but it wasn’t until 1999 that ketamine became a federally controlled substance in the U.S. Despite its bad rap as a dangerous post-party drug, ketamine is listed as a “core” medicine in the WHO’s Essential Drugs List, as it is produced very cheaply around the world and is fast and effective as an anesthetic for minor procedures.

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However, ketamine is having a new heyday as patients and clinicians are looking to the drug to help treat severe depression. Although it is still considered an “off-label” use of the medication, researchers from the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, have just completed clinical trials using ketamine to treat depression. Although the initial trial consisted of just 16 senior citizens, the researchers are extremely optimistic about the emerging results, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Lead Professor Colleen Woo reported to ABC News in Australia that “all the symptoms of depression across the board disappeared. So [the patients] felt better, they were able to enjoy things, they were interested in life… the whole lot happened at once.” She is careful to note that before ketamine injection can be considered a standard treatment for depression, they will need to look at a larger study group as well as the safety and effectiveness of multiple treatments over time.

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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

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