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Ketamine seen as “fast-acting” for those who suffer from depression

Ketamine started out as an anesthetic for surgeries, only to quickly get abused as a hallucinogenic party drug. Now a U.S. study is claiming it can serve as a “fast-acting” treatment for people afflicted with clinical depression, an article from the BBC reported.

The researchers administered ketamine to participants via nasal spray. It claimed that volunteers with symptoms of depression showed “significant” improvements within 24 hours of treatment.

The U.K.’s Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) described the study’s findings as a big step for ketamine, which has not yet been accepted as an antidepressant by the country’s National Health Service (NHS).

Conducted by researchers from Janssen Research and Development (Janssen) and Yale School of Medicine (Yale), the study is the first to consider ketamine as an antidepressant. It’s also the first such report conducted by a drug company. Janssen is a pharmaceutical company that is part of the multinational Johnson & Johnson.

Ketamine nasal spray works much faster during first four weeks of treatment

The trial encompassed 68 participants who were deemed to be suicidal. All patients stayed in the hospital and received antidepressant treatment.

Half of the patients also received esketamine, which is derived from the ketamine molecule and administered via nasal spray. The other participants were given placebos. The researchers reported that patients who received esketamine greatly improved during the first four weeks of treatment. By the 25th day, the effect had leveled out.

Based on their findings, the Janssen-Yale research team believed ketamine could be a way to quickly treat severe depression in suicidal patients. They claimed it would be most effective during the early stages of treatment, because most antidepressants need four to six weeks before they hit their stride.

The esketamine nasal spray is currently going through phase three trials. If it passes those trials, it will become a legally usable antidepressant.

The study authors said they didn’t encounter any issues regarding ketamine dependence or misuse during their experiment. However, they admitted that more trials should be conducted on the drug’s potential for abuse. (Related: New antidepressant drug nearly identical to popular party drug.)

Experts believe ketamine should be approved as an antidepressant drug

U.K. scientists are conducting their own research into treating depression using intravenous ketamine. Dr. James Stone of the RCP said that the U.S. study confirmed earlier findings with intravenously delivered treatment.

Dr. Stone observed that the ketamine nasal spray was a much more convenient method than intravenous delivery. The former method was also probably faster, which could mean more people could be treated at the same time without the need for specialized equipment.

If the NHS accepted ketamine as a prescription drug, Stone said it would be used as a second or third line of treatment for severe depression. It could also be replace electroconvulsive therapy, which tries to treat certain mental problems by sending small electric shocks into the brain of a patient.

Right now, ketamine is only cleared for use as an anesthetic due to its hallucinogenic side effects. This does not stop many health service professionals who run private clinics in the U.S. and U.K. from prescribing it to their patients as an unofficial antidepressant.

U.K. researchers have been testing the drug since 2011. One of these testers is Dr. Rupert McShane, who claims ketamine might be able to help patients with depression who have not yet responded to other treatments.

McShane is one of the loudest voices supporting ketamine’s legalization as an antidepressant. But even he admitted that the drug will need to be regulated on a national level.

Find out more about ketamine and other supposedly effective antidepressant drugs at

Sources include:

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