Study: Ketamine reduces suicidal thoughts, depression symptoms almost immediately

WASHINGTON — It’s well-known for being a popular club drug dubbed “Special K,” and it was once used as a pain reliever for soldiers during the Vietnam war, but now many doctors believe ketamine may be the next big thing in the mental health world.  A recent study finds that a nasal spray formulation of the drug could rapidly treat symptoms of major depression and suicidal thoughts.

Sixty-eight individuals at risk of suicide participated in the study, with half given an intranasal spray formula with esketamine — a part of the ketamine molecule — and half given a placebo. Each group received this treatment twice a week for four weeks. They were tested for the effects of the treatment four hours after first administration, 24 hours after, and 25 days after.

All participants also received standard treatment and antidepressants throughout the trial.

Researchers found significant improvement in depression evaluations as well as significant decreases in suicidal thoughts in subjects who used the ketamine spray compared to those given the placebo. These results were apparent as soon as four hours after the treatment was first given and continued 24 hours after.

Both the placebo and the ketamine treatments showed the same efficacy after 25 days, however.

While the study showed the potential for using ketamine as a quick-acting treatment those battling depression or suicidal thoughts, the researchers warned that more work is needed to account for ketamine abuse potential before the drug can be introduced as a common treatment.

The full study was published April 16, 2018 in the journal The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP).

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