A medicine best known as a club drug has a record of relieving suicidal depression in hours. National Institutes of Health researcher Dr. Carlos Zarate has been studying ketamine for years, and he told those gathered at the UT Health San Antonio Brain Health Symposium on Mood Disorders it's a potential game changer for people who struggle with treatment resistant depression.
“One intravenous infusion, they have a response in a couple of hours, which usually takes six weeks or longer with a traditional antidepressant,” Zarate said.
When given to people having suicidal thoughts, Zarate said, around half of them feel better, also in just a few hours.
With suicide rates climbing at an alarming rate among many groups in the United States, it seems like there would be a rush to make the drug available everywhere. But right now you can only get intravenous ketamine infusions or a recently FDA-approved nasal spray in certified clinics. It’s not cheap, and insurance might not reimburse you.
Zarate said the caution around ketamine centers around its side effects. It can cause confusion and dissociation. There is also the potential for abuse and addiction.
But he said years of research finding that — for many — ketamine works, and works quickly, offers hope.
“By better understanding ketamine, reverse engineering, we can develop next generation treatments that or like ketamine but better tolerated,” Zarate told the conference.
The goal? To develop a rapid acting antidepressant that can be taken by more people, with fewer risks.