Depression’s Psychedelic Solution?

Ketamine is currently the rising star of depression research, with limited clinical trials suggesting that it can ease depression's most severe symptoms almost immediately. But, while ketamine’s promise has stirred excitement in some circles, it has also sparked controversy, owing to the drug’s potentially harmful side effects.

ZURICH – According to the World Health Organization, depression affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide, making it one of the most prevalent psychiatric conditions. But only about half of those who try antidepressant drugs respond to them, and those who do may have to wait several weeks or even months before experiencing relief – a critical failing for people at immediate risk of suicide. Fast-acting antidepressants are thus urgently needed.

Ketamine – a drug primarily used as an anesthetic in veterinary medicine and as a short-term anesthetic and analgesic in hospitals during surgery or other painful procedures – is currently the rising star of depression research. It appears to ease depression’s most severe symptoms within minutes or hours, even in patients who have a dismal track record with other treatments.

In the first controlled study, researchers reported a 50% decline in symptoms of depression within two hours of a ketamine infusion, and one-third of patients were virtually symptom-free within a day. Moreover, patients reported diminished thoughts of suicide a mere 40 minutes after receiving an intravenous infusion of the drug. In some patients, the effects of a single dose can last more than a week.