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Ketamine: A miracle antidepressant?

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More data is now available—this time from the Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston, Texas—suggesting that the “club drug” ketamine can rapidly relieve symptoms of major depression.  

Ketamine, or Special K as it is known on the streets, when used illicitly, can cause feelings of unreality and hallucinations. Its side effects—even when given in a medical environment (where it is given intravenously)—can include psychotic experiences, bladder problems and heart problems.  

The truly astounding benefits reported by some of the depressed patients in Texas (and previously reported by researchers at Yale University), however, mean it is time to ramp up research into whether intravenous doses of ketamine, administered by doctors, will prove to be a very powerful new tool in fighting major depression and, perhaps, other conditions including panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Ketamine is turning out to provide windows of hope into the future for people who have struggled and seen only darkness for months or years.  Some of these patients have not benefited from psychiatric medications or even from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).   Some of these patients were contemplating suicide and were relieved almost instantly of the desire to end their lives.  They feel hopeful, again.  They feel motivated, again.  And the relief from a single dose of ketamine can last for weeks.  This opens up the possibility that those who were hostage to nearly unbearable suffering could have the weight lifted from their shoulders by seeing a doctor for a weekly dose, or even a dose every two weeks.

It is possible that experiencing a period of well-being for a week might be enough, in and of itself, to give patients hope and keep them moving toward recovery.

Potentially even more important than the discovery that ketamine seems to work as well as it does, researchers at Yale have already identified the chemical pathway and a key enzyme involved in the way that ketamine actually restores connections between brain cells.  This enzyme, called mTOR, is critical in the synthesis of a protein nerve cells need to repair the fluid-filled “touch points,” called synapses, at which they exchange chemical messengers.  Knowing this means that studies should be undertaken to see whether ketamine can also prevent relapses to depression in those who have recovered, or worsening of depression in those who have moderate symptoms.

I have written before (about 16 months ago) and am writing again now that it is time for the FDA to fast-track ketamine for approved use in select patient populations—those with severe major depression not relieved by other treatment modalities.

I also believe that anyone with a loved one who is now suffering the ravages of a very serious major depression, in which suicidal thinking has occurred, and in which medication and other strategies haven’t worked, should be searching for a psychiatrist willing to procure and administer ketamine.

Dr. Ablow is the author of "Inside the Mind of Casey Anthony." He is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at info@keithablow.com. His team of Life Coaches can be reached at lifecoach@keithablow.com.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at info@keithablow.com.