A decades-old anesthetic made notorious as a party drug in the 1980s is resurfacing as a potential “game-changing” treatment for severe depression, patients and psychiatrists say, but they remain wary about potential long-term problems.
The Food and Drug Administration earlier this month OKd use of Spravato for patients with depression who have not benefited from other currently available medications. Spravato, the brand name given to the drug esketamine, is a molecule derived from ketamine — known as Special K on the club scene.
Ketamine has been shown in some studies to be useful for treating a wide variety of neurological disorders including depression. Regular, longtime use of it isn’t well understood, psychiatrists say, but the need for a new drug to treat depression is so great that the FDA put Spravato on a fast-track course for approval.
The drug likely will be commercially available in a few weeks, and patients already are requesting it. Restrictions around its use, though — the drug must be administered in a doctor’s office by providers who are certified with the company making it — mean it may be months before it’s widely available, and longer than that before insurers start paying for it.
“I don’t think we know at this point how effective it’s going to be,” said Dr. Craig Nelson, a psychiatrist at the UCSF Depression Center. “There have been a number of studies of ketamine, sometimes showing effects in people who were resistant to other drugs. If we can treat a different group of people, it would be a great advantage.”
Ketamine was developed in the 1960s as a surgical anesthetic for people and animals. The drug can cause hallucinations and a feeling of “dissociation” or unreality, and in the 1980s it took off as a party drug among people seeking those effects. It remained a common anesthetic, though, and in the early 2000s doctors began to notice a connection between ketamine and relief from symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
Spravato is delivered by nasal spray, which patients give themselves in a doctor’s office. Patients must be monitored while they get the drug and for two hours after to make sure they don’t suffer immediate complications. At the start, patients will get the nasal spray twice a week for four weeks, then taper to regular boosters every few weeks for an indefinite period of time.
Studies of ketamine — and specifically of Spravato — have produced encouraging but inconsistent results. Psychiatrists say that, like most other antidepressants, the drug probably won’t help everyone with difficult-to-treat depression. But there likely will be a subset of patients who get substantial benefits, and that alone may make it an incredible new tool.
About 16 million Americans experience depression every year, and roughly a quarter of them get no benefit from antidepressants on the market. Thought scientists haven’t determined exactly how ketamine works on the brains of people with depression or other mood disorders, it appears to take a different path of attack than any drug already available. That means that people who don’t respond to other antidepressants may find this one works for them.
But a concern among some psychiatrists is that studies have suggested that ketamine may affect the same receptors in the brain that respond to opioids. Ketamine and its derivations may then put patients at risk of addiction — but research so far hasn’t explored that kind of long-term effect.
“There might be some potential problems if you used it too aggressively,” said Dr. Alan Schatzberg, director of the Stanford Mood Disorders Center, who led the research that identified a connection with opioid receptors. “The issue is not so much the short-term use, it’s the repetitive use, and the use over time, as to whether there are going to be untoward consequences.
“It would be hard for me to recommend the use of this drug for chronically depressed people without knowing what the endgame is here,” he added.
Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez, a Stanford psychiatrist who was part of the studies of ketamine and opioid receptors, said she shares Schatzberg’s concerns. But she’s been studying the use of ketamine to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, and for some patients the results have been so remarkable that the benefits may exceed the risks.
“When I gave ketamine to my first patient, I nearly fell off my chair. Somebody said it was like a vacation from their OCD, and I was just, ‘Wow, this is really possible,’” Rodriguez said. “I want to make sure patients have their eyes wide open. I hope (the FDA approval) spurs more research, so we can really inform consumers.”
Though the new nasal spray is the first formal FDA approval of a ketamine-derived drug, psychiatrists have been using the generic anesthetic for years to study its effect on depression and other mood disorders.
In recent years, clinics have opened around the country offering intravenous infusions of ketamine to people with hard-to-treat depression and other problems. These treatments aren’t specifically FDA-approved but are allowed as off-label use of ketamine. The clinics have faced skepticism from some traditional psychiatrists, but there’s a growing ream of anecdotal evidence that the ketamine IVs work — for some people.
Aptos resident Mary, who suffers from depression and other mood disorders and asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy, said the already available antidepressants weren’t keeping her symptoms at bay, and she frequently felt “one step away from the abyss.” When she first heard about ketamine, from a support group for people with depression and other mood disorders, she was hesitant.
“I kind of hemmed and hawed, because I’d heard that K was a street drug,” Mary said. “But then I said, ‘What do I have to lose?’ So I went and did it.”
The results were quick: Within four days, “the cloud had lifted,” she said. More than a year later, she is still feeling good with regular infusions every three or four weeks. During the ketamine infusion, Mary said she’ll feel the dissociation, which she described as feeling like she’s viewing the world around her as though it were a movie and not her own life.
She said she’s pleased the FDA approved Spravato, though she hasn’t decided whether she’ll switch from the IV ketamine to the nasal spray. She hopes that the FDA approval will give some validation to ketamine and encourage others to try it.
Mary gets her infusions at Palo Alto Mind Body, where Dr. M Rameen Ghorieshi started offering ketamine two years ago. He’s certified with the maker of Spravato — Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a branch of Johnson and Johnson — to provide the drug, though he doesn’t know when he’ll actually start giving the nasal spray to patients.
Ghorieshi said that although he’s been offering IV ketamine for more than two years, he shares his colleagues’ wariness of the long-term effects of regular use of the drug. He hopes FDA approval will encourage further research.
“At this point we’ve done 1,000 infusions. The outcomes have exceeded my own expectations,” Ghorieshi said. “But anecdotes are not clinical trials. I approach this very cautiously. What I don’t want is 20 or 30 years from now to look back and say, ‘What did we do?’”
An hour before we spoke, Darragh O’Carroll, an emergency room physician from Hawaii, had just given an elderly patient a sedating shot of ketamine. The man had pneumonia and was acting confused and fidgety, making him hard to treat.
“Not only it was a pain control for him when I was putting needles into his neck, but it also kept him still,” O’Carroll says. “And with very minimal risk of lowering his blood pressure.”
Ketamine’s use as an anesthetic — and not as a party drug — is widespread, though not commonly known. In fact, the World Health Organizationestimates ketamine is the most widely used anesthetic in the world and keeps it on their list of essential medicines, a category of drugs that all developed countries should have on hand.
O’Carroll has described ketamine as his “favorite medicine of all time” in an article for Tonic, not only because the anesthetic is incredibly safe and effective, but also because of its versatility. It’s most widely used in surgery, but could also help treat severe asthma, chronic pain, and may even possess anti-tumor properties. In the last two decades, ketamine has also emerged as a potent antidepressant, able to treat symptoms of some mental illnesses in less than 72 hours.
“I think the more research that goes into ketamine, the more uses that we find for it,” O’Carroll says.
From PCP to Painkiller
Ketamine’s story begins with a drug called PCP. Yes, that PCP — phencyclidine or so-called “angel dust,” a drug that when smoked can cause a trance-like state, agitation and out-of-body hallucinations. After it was first synthesized by medicinal chemist Victor Maddox in 1956, the drug was briefly approved as an anesthetic by the FDA for its sedative properties. In tests with a wild rhesus monkey, for example, researchers put their fingers in the previously aggressive animal’s mouth and watched its jaw remain slack.
But while it was safe and effective for pain relief, the side effects of PCP soon became too obvious to ignore.
Some patients under the influence of PCP would feel like they lost their arms or legs or that they were floating in space. It could also cause seizures and delirium. Scientists began seeking a shorter-acting anesthetic without convulsant properties. In 1962, chemistry professor Calvin Stevens discovered a PCP analogue that fit the bill: ketamine.
Ketamine is a potent, sedating painkiller that can cause amnesia and is mostly used in surgery and veterinary medicine. During the Vietnam Invasion, ketamine saw widespread use in the U.S. military because it has several advantages over opioids. First, unlike morphine, ketamine doesn’t suppress blood pressure or breathing. It also doesn’t need to be refrigerated, making it useful in the field or in rural areas that don’t have access to electricity.
Ketamine’s benefits extend beyond use as an anesthetic, though — in some cases it can serve as a balm for the mind as well. A 2008 analysis found that burn victims who were given ketamine were less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, even if their injuries were more severe. Those findings have been replicated, such as a 2014 clinical trial of 41 patients, who saw their PTSD symptoms diminish within 24 hours, an effect that lasted for two weeks.
“When somebody gets one of their limbs dramatically blown off or is shot in the face, it’s a very traumatic event,” O’Carroll says. In such a situation, giving ketamine not only provides instant pain relief, it could prevent long-lasting trauma.
Because its chemical structure is so similar to PCP, ketamine can still give lucid hallucinations, such as feeling that your mind has separated from the body — a dissociative state users sometimes call a “K-hole.” One recent study based on users’ written reports even indicated that this kind of experience might be a close analogue to a near-death experience. However, these dissociative states only happen at high doses — the amount of ketamine used to for surgery and to treat depression is typically much lower.
But ketamine’s side effects are less common and easier to manage than PCP. In fact, ketamine is one of the safest drugs used in medicine today and can even be given to young children. For example, ketamine was used to sedatethe boys’ soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand last year. Putting the kids in a tranquilized state made it easier to rescue them, and ketamine is safer than the opioids or benzodiazepines that are also commonly used as sedatives.
Ketamine as Antidepressant
But it wasn’t until the 1990s that what could turn out to be ketamine’s most important function was discovered. A team from Yale University School of Medicine was examining the role of glutamate, a common neurotransmitter, in depression, and discovered something remarkable: ketamine could rapidly relieve depression symptoms.
“To our surprise, the patients started saying, they were better in a few hours,” Dennis Charney, one of the researchers, told Bloomberg. This rapid relief was unheard of in psychiatry.
Glutamate is associated with neural plasticity, our brain’s ability to adapt and change at the level of the neuron. Ketamine blocks certain glutamate receptors, but not others, and the end effect could be to promote the growth of new neurons while protecting old ones. This could explain how ketamine can help reset the brain, though the theory hasn’t yet been definitively proven.
The prescription meds currently on the market for depression have some major drawbacks. Drugs like Prozac or Wellbutrin can take a few weeks or months to kick in while worsening symptoms in the short term — not a good combination, especially for someone who is extremely depressed, or even suicidal.
It took around a decade for mainstream science to take notice of these early ketamine-depression studies. But once it did, ketamine clinics began popping up all across North America, offering fast relief for depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Patients are given an infusion — an IV drip that lasts about an hour — and many people, but not everyone, have seen rapid relief of their symptoms.
Suddenly, ketamine infusions became trendy, though the science to back up some of the medical claims is still inconclusive, according to STAT. However, ketamine infusions are rarely covered by insurance, although that is changing. A typical session can run $700, with many patients taking six sessions or more. But many of these patients have so-called treatment-resistant depression. They’ve tried other medications or therapies without success and some see ketamine as a last resort.
Steven Mandel, a clinical psychologist and anesthesiologist, has used ketamine on patients since it first came on the market around 50 years ago. In 2014, he began using it for patients with depression and opened Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles, one of the oldest and largest clinics in the country. They’ve done over 8,000 infusions so far.
“Our success rate is better than 83 percent,” Mandel says. For his clinic, success means a 50 percent improvement of depression symptoms for longer than three months.
Ketamine’s success as an antidepressant couldn’t help but attract the attention of major pharmaceutical companies as well. In 2009, Johnson & Johnson began developing their own version of the drug they called esketamine. Rather than an infusion through a vein, it’s dispensed through a nasal spray. The FDA approved their formulation in early March. It was thefirst drug in 35 years to fight depression using a different approach than traditional drugs.
“Esketamine is a giant step forward,” Mandel says. “It means we’re not going to be demonizing mind-altering substances used for therapeutic purposes. It opens the door to research on LSD, on psilocybin, on MDMA and many other agents that could possibly relieve a great deal of suffering.”
But many clinicians have raised concerns about long-term side effects, such as heart and bladder toxicity. Others have been critical of esketamine, saying there isn’t enough data yet to suggest the drug is safe or effective. Husseini Manji, a neuroscientist who helped develop the drug for Johnson & Johnson at their subsidiary Janssen, has pushed back against these claims.
“When you line up the totality of the studies, it was really an overwhelming amount of data that was all in the same direction,” Manji says in a call. Though just two of the five late-state clinical trials showed significant results, the changes in mood in the three that fell short were “almost identical in magnitude” to the others, Manji says. It was enough for the drug to meet standards for FDA approval.
We can probably expect other ketamine-related drugs to come to market soon. ATAI Life Sciences, a company funding research on the use of magic mushrooms for depression, is developing their own ketamine depression drug. The pharmaceutical company Allergan also developed rapastinel, another ketamine-like drug, though it failed to show any real benefits for patients in later trials. Manji says this is unfortunate for people who could be helped by these kinds of drugs.
“From a patient standpoint, we were hoping it would work,” he says, even though he was not involved in rapastinel’s development. “But sometimes if you really haven’t got the mechanism right and you haven’t really threaded the needle, then sometimes you don’t see these results.”
Drug of Abuse?
Even though ketamine’s medical uses are well-established, most people have only heard of ketamine in the context of a party drug. Because of this bad reputation — and what’s perceived as growing misuse of the drug — several countries, such as China and the UK, have tried to place greater restrictions on ketamine. This would make it harder to study and more expensive in clinical use.
“If it was to ever be rescheduled, places that would be first affected would be you know places that need it most,” O’Carroll says. The WHO has asked at least four times for countries to keep access to ketamine open. “The medical benefits of ketamine far outweigh potential harm from recreational use,” Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director general for Health Systems and Innovation at WHO, said in 2015.
So far, no countries have put greater restrictions on ketamine, and that’s probably a good thing. Ketamine has a rich history, but its future is still being written.
‘Special K’ Drug vs Ketamine Therapy: The Differences in Intentions, Use and Application
The Differences Between ‘Special K’ and Ketamine Therapy
Some know it as a veterinary tranquilizer, others know it as a party drug. For others still, it might be a life-line, the only hope to get their life back from the throes of crippling depression. We are talking about a drug called ketamine or ‘Special K’.
Ketamine’s many names and uses make it a difficult drug to understand. The scientific research on ketamine is evolving so rapidly that not even medical professionals can’t agree on how it should be used.
This article takes all of the information about ketamine, or ‘Special K’, and breaks it down so that it’s simple, accurate, and concise. If you’re wondering about the many differences between using ketamine as a street drug and using it therapeutically, then you’ve come to the right place.
Special K: Ketamine as a Street Drug
Most people first learn about ketamine when they hear about the street drug called ‘Special K’. Other names for the drug when used recreationally are: Ketalar, Ketaject, Vitamin K, and Super K. While this drug is not as widely used as Marijuana or some other illicit substances, it has a strong hold on certain niche markets, like the clubbing and raving scenes.
Although doctors and veterinarians began using ketamine in the 1960s, it wasn’t introduced into the party scene until much later. The trend actually began in India, in the Goa trance music scene of the 1980s, and made its way to the western world from there. By the 1990s, ketamine was a major force in the psychedelic drug scene throughout Europe and the United States.
Despite small ups and downs since its introduction in the ‘90s, Special K has remained a steadily popular drug among high school and college students. The US’s National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that 1.2 percent of high school seniors report that they’ve used ketamine in the last year. While that’s much lower than some other drugs, it’s still significant given the seriousness of ketamine’s effects and the dangers of its potential side effects.
An overdose of ketamine can lead to death. Even non-lethal doses can cause side effects like chest pain, memory loss, and trouble breathing. Those who use Special K recreationally often become addicted, and eventually lose their jobs, relationships, and lives to the drug.
Ketamine Therapy: How Doctors Are Using Ketamine to Change Lives
“At this point, any new depression treatment that makes it to the finish line is a huge win.” That’s Dr. George Papakostas speaking to Time Magazine about the desperate need that medical providers have for depression medications. He says that whatever drug does make across that finish line is “going to have a major impact.”
That drug may very well be ketamine.
Despite its reputation as a street drug or a horse tranquilizer, multiple scientific studies have found the drug is a very effective remedy for a number of ailments (such as PTSD), but especially depression.
Ketamine, along with drugs like phencyclidine (popularly known as PCP) and dextromethorphan (often called DXM or ‘Robo’), belongs to a class of drugs called dissociative anesthetics. These kinds of drugs tend to give the users a ‘floating’ sensation, as if they’re detached from their bodies and their surroundings.
Special K is a particularly fast acting form of dissociative anesthetic, which is why it works so well as both a party drug and a numbing agent in surgeries. In medical settings, Ketamine is often used as an initial anesthetic before other, more powerful painkillers like morphine can kick in. But it’s not these anesthetic effects that make the ketamine drug so effective as an antidepressant.
However it works, the scientific results are pretty clear: regular, therapeutic doses of ketamine helps eliminate the symptoms of depression.
One study from February of 2018 observed “significant improvement of depressive symptoms” in a double-blind clinical trial of 67 adults with treatment-resistant depression (a type of depression that doesn’t respond to other medications like Prozac). Further, the study found that the improvements in the patients were sustained throughout the entire 9-week period of the study. That’s not just a good finding, it’s a breakthrough for treating a condition that has long eluded medical professionals.
Although ketamine has not yet been approved in a prescription pill or nasal spray form for treating depression, there are treatment centers that can offer completely legal ketamine therapy for depression. One of these centers, based in Los Angles, is called Ketamine Clinics.
At these centers doctors are able to administer ketamine drugs in a controlled and calm setting through intravenous or infusion methods.
Why People Use Ketamine Drugs: Therapy Vs. Thrill Seeking
Although the ketamine drug used in therapy is technically the same as the Special K drug used in wild raves, the motivations and outcomes of the experiences are very different.
Using Special K to Get High:
When people use Special K as a street drug, they are looking for a high. Some might be seeking a thrilling experience at a rave, while others might be trying to escape from a life that they find overwhelming. Many end up dangerously addicted to the drug after repeated use.
Almost immediately after the drug is ingested, the user begins to feel the effects of the ketamine. At lower doses, ketamine may merely make the user feel ‘dreamy’. But, at higher doses, ketamine can have extreme euphoric and hallucinogenic effects. When these effects are at their most extreme, the user can become immobilized and go into a ‘K-Hole’.
Ketamine’s effects on mobility and memory are so drastic that it is often used as a date rape drug. In this way, the high of Special K can quickly turn into a horrible low.
This dark side of ketamine is made more dangerous by the fact that recreational users are often getting their supply from unregulated sources, like the Chinese black market or the ‘dark web’. Unregulated drugs like this can be cut with toxic chemicals or other drugs, and they can have very inconsistent potencies, making it nearly impossible to determine a safe dose.
In short, ketamine is like many other street drugs when it’s used illicitly: it offers a quick, dangerous high that can easily lead to addiction.
Using Ketamine as Therapy:
John Abenstein, MD, the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, has said that “Outside of the clinic, ketamine can cause tragedies, but in the right hands, it is a miracle.”
It’s this miracle, and not a fun ‘high’, that people are seeking when they use ketamine for therapy.
Many people’s lives have been plagued by depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. People lose their jobs because they can’t find the will to leave their beds in the morning. Their friendships fall apart and their marriages often end in divorce. Some severely depressed people end up taking their own lives. These tragedies are all too common.
Ketamine therapy offers real hope for millions of people who struggle with these psychological problems daily. It’s especially important for those ‘treatment resistant’ patients who have found no relief from other treatments like SSRIs.
Even though there is not yet a prescription ketamine medication for depression, many people’s lives have already been changed by ketamine therapy in clinics. In fact, there is a whole Ketamine Advocacy Network whose mission is to “spread awareness of ketamine therapy for treatment-resistant depression, bipolar, and PTSD, and to make this treatment available and affordable for all who need it.”
Ketamine therapy is about so much more than a fun party or a weekend escape. It’s about healing lives that have been fractured by crippling disorders.
Intravenous Infusions for Therapy Vs. Snorting or Injecting to Get High
In its recreational drug form, ketamine tends to be a white powder or a crystallized chunk that can be broken apart. In order to get high, people snort the drug as lines of powder, take it orally in pill forms, or inject it intravenously using hypodermic needles.
All of these forms of recreational use present their own dangers, such as infection, the spread of disease through used needles, or incorrect dosing.
Using ketamine in a medical facility is a very different sort of experience.
The ‘route of administration’ (ROA), or how the drug gets into the body, is very important for ketamine’s therapeutic qualities to work. Most therapeutic doses of the ketamine drug are given intravenously.
The intravenous infusions are given over an elongated period, usually about a half an hour in length. This method allows the practitioners to control the dosage and to spread out the rate of delivery so that the drug can enter the bloodstream in a consistent and steady manner, rather than all at once.
Intravenous infusions also allow the drug to enter directly into the bloodstream. Other ROAs, like pills, can lead to a large percentage of the drug being metabolized by the body before reaching the brain. You can read more about why intravenous infusions are most effective on the Ketamine Advocacy Network website.
How It Feels to Take Ketamine Therapeutically
Therapeutic doses of ketamine definitely won’t send you into a K-Hole, but they can make you a bit woozy. In some cases, people have reported feeling dissociated, but these feeling are usually minor and can even be pleasurable. Still, patients must make sure to arrange a ride home with a friend or family member because they won’t be able to drive.
Many people find that they can go right back to work or school after their ketamine therapy appointment. Others prefer to head home and take a short nap. Either way, the anesthetic effects of the ketamine should be gone shortly after the session.
Although it varies from patient to patient, many people only require ketamine therapy once a week or less in order to see a significant or total reduction in their symptoms!
K-Hole: The Risks of a Special K Drug Overdose
As we’ve mentioned above, a ketamine overdose is not pleasant, and can even be deadly. Although you don’t have to worry about this if you’re just taking therapeutic doses, those who use the drug recreationally must be very careful.
When someone takes high amounts of the Special K drug they can end up in a sort of catatonic state where they can’t move or talk. This is called a K-hole. Some describe it as a near death experience, and that’s not a good thing. It can be a terrifying and even traumatizing experience.
But a K-Hole is not the worst thing that can happen if you take too much ketamine. A ketamine overdose can also lead to vomiting, chest pain, seizures, and even death.
The Future of Ketamine
Depression has plagued humans for millennia. It was first described by Hippocrates as “Melancholia”, and although we know much more about the disease these days, the treatments that are widely available are far from perfect. This is why the advances in ketamine therapy are so exciting.
Doctor Thomas Insel has said that ““Recent data suggest that ketamine, given intravenously, might be the most important breakthrough in antidepressant treatment in decades.” That’s a big deal coming from the director of the Institute of Mental Health.
Ketamine may continue to be a dangerous street drug for some, but for others it’s a beacon of shining hope.
The anesthetic ketamine, used in both humans and animals, is perhaps best known as an illegal party drug due to its hallucinogenic effects. However, a growing body of research indicates that the drug may have a powerful new medical use: as a fast-acting antidepressant without the side effects seen in most prescription antidepressants.
As Nature reports, in many clinical trials to date people who have not responded to standard antidepressant treatment — such as SSRIs including Prozac — seem to respond to ketamine. And while it can take weeks to feel better after starting a prescription antidepressant, the therapeutic effects of ketamine are seen in a matter of hours.
Despite the seemingly “miracle drug” nature of ketamine, there are serious concerns about its use in depression. First, it is unclear how the drug works to alleviate depression. Second, there are no long-term studies on its long-term use. Studies that have already been done indicate the antidepressant effects of ketamine can last from between a few days to a few weeks.
And due to the addictive nature of ketamine itself, there are worries that sustained use of it may lead to dependence.
On May 4, Nature published the results of the latest trial involving ketamine, bolstering its potential as an antidepressant treatment. Researchers, examining the drug in mice, found that that the mood boosting effects may not be caused by ketamine itself, but instead by one of the metabolites ((2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine) formed when the drug is broken down into smaller pieces.
Even more promising, the ketamine given to the rats did not increase side effects, even though the dose was much stronger than what would be given to humans for depression. The researchers say they want to take the metabolite into testing in humans, though that is likely years away.
Despite the lack of clear-cut evidence of its benefits and unknowns about its long-term risk, many doctors are already offering ketamine as a depression treatments to patients, though this is an off-label use.
Side effects of ketamine can include confusion, lucid daydreaming, fuzzy vision, and a “high” feeling, though they tend to go away quickly, according to these doctors. Patients, who are usually given ketamine via infusion, are carefully monitored and must have pre-arranged transport home. They can’t drive or use heavy machinery for 24 hours.
Drug companies are even trying to cash in on the ketamine craze. Janssen Pharmaceutical is testing a form of ketamine it developed, called esketamine, in 5 clinical trials. It would be given via a nasal spray. Another is rapastinel, under development by Allergan. Both drugs had “breakthrough therapy designation” from the FDA, meaning they will go through the regulatory process at a much quicker rate.
One more reason to treat your depression rapidly with Ketamine:
Depression Linked to Increased Risk of Developing Atrial Fibrillation
NEW YORK—Depression appears to be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, the most common arrhythmia in the U.S., according to new observational data from the national Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) study.
Considering that 20% of U.S. adults report depressive symptoms, “our findings identify a large portion of the U.S. population that is potentially at an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation and who may benefit from more targeted efforts to prevent atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Parveen Garg, from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, told Reuters Health by email.
He presented the study March 22 at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.
The analysis included 6,644 adults (mean age, 62; 53% women, 38% white, 28% black, 22% Hispanic, 12% Chinese-American) with no known heart disease at baseline who were followed for a median of 13 years as part of the MESA study.
In the fully adjusted model, individuals with a Centers for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) score of 16 or higher (indicating clinically relevant depressive symptoms) had a 34% (P=0.039) higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation during follow-up compared with those with a CES-D score of less than 2. Similarly, individuals reporting antidepressant use had a significant 36% increase in their risk of developing atrial fibrillation compared with those not on the drugs.
“An important next step is to confirm these results in other studies, especially those with more comprehensive and clinically validated assessments of depression. If confirmed, then it will be important to determine if treating individuals with depression actually reduces their risk of atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Garg said.
Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain a possible link between depression and atrial fibrillation, Dr. Garg explained. Depression can increase systemic inflammation and activate the autonomic nervous system, which increases catecholamine levels, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which increases cortisol levels. Depression may also activate the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system.
“Taken together, these changes may induce atrial fibrillation susceptibility either directly by disrupting the electrophysiologic properties of the atria or indirectly by promoting atrial fibrosis, increasing the atrial pressure,” Dr. Garg said, adding that further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms involved.
Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said this study “affirms the association between depression and atrial fibrillation in a population that I think is important because it’s a mixed population and not just the standard Caucasian population.”
“There are some associated risk factors in people with depression that might increase their risk of atrial fibrillation, including an increased incidence of hypertension in some patients who have depression as well as other disorders that might be driven by activation of the sympathetic nervous system like anxiety disorder. So there are several reasons why people might have depression and atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Tomaselli, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health by phone.
“One question is what should we do about it, and I’m not sure we have an answer from this study except to make sure that we are looking for symptoms of depression,” he said. “We don’t know whether treatment of depression will reduce the incidence of atrial fibrillation. There is some reason to think that it might, but there are other reasons to think that antidepressant drugs actually have some effects on the heart, the ion channels that determine the rhythm of the heart.”
The study had no commercial funding and the authors have no relevant disclosures.
Ketamine is a drug currently approved by the FDA for use as a general anesthetic during minor surgical procedures such as biopsies. It is widely known as a recreational drug because of its ability to induce cognitive-dissociative, hallucinogenic, and euphoric states in humans. Recently, it has been implicated in research as a potential therapeutic agent in depression especially in patients who have failed previous standard therapies.
Standard pharmacologic therapies for depression take several weeks of treatment before patients experience relief. Ketamine is different in that it has been shown to reduce depression symptoms and suicidal ideation in as little as forty minutes. This is considered a potentially lifesaving breakthrough in the treatment of depression because ketamine can rapidly reduce symptoms especially in emergency situations.
How does it work?
The most common medications used in depression affect serotonin in the brain. Ketamine works by a different mechanism. It has been shown to block the glutamate receptors in the brain resulting in its famous hallucinogenic effects. Ketamine has been shown to act on several other receptors, but it is theorized that at low doses, blocking glutamate receptors in the brain may be the reason for its anti-depressive effects.
Who should (and shouldn’t) take ketamine?
Ketamine has not been approved by the FDA for treatment of depression. Although, because of new studies, psychiatrists have been prescribing ketamine “off-label” for patients who did not respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such has Celexa (citalopram), Zoloft (sertraline), or Prozac (fluoxetine) for immediate treatment of symptoms.
Ketamine has been shown to transiently yet significantly increase blood pressure following administration. Patients with high blood pressure should use caution when using ketamine. Ketamine has also been shown to be associated with increases in psychosis or dissociative properties.
Ketamine nasal sprays offer a quick and convenient way to administer ketamine for patients who need immediate relief, although they are currently not available commercially, so you will not find them at your local community pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies have the proper experience, equipment, and personnel to safely compound and customize this medication for you.
Now that the days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler, Virginians have had the first glimpse of cold for the season, some of us begin to feel the winter blues. These feelings of low energy and sleepiness may actually be Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
SAD is a form of depression related to the changing seasons. It usually starts in the late fall, especially in our northern climes. The decreasing hours of sunlight, along with the cold and snow, cause our bodies to retreat into the warmth and coziness of our homes. We tend to crave carbohydrates, eat comfort foods, and socially withdraw as we sleep more, and move less; much like we are hibernating!
Those most at risk for SAD are people already suffering from major depression or bipolar disorder. Risk factors include being female, family history, young age, and the further you live from the equator, the higher your risk. However, there are ways to decrease your risk, and increase your mood.
What can you do to improve your mood? Soak up the sun! When the weather allows, go for a walk on those bright, crisp sunny days. If the temperature or the ice and snow don’t allow you to venture outside, open the curtains and let the sun shine in. Exercise and eating healthy are both options to make you feel better. Vitamins, especially vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin can help with mood. Be social, visit with friends. A phone call, visit, or even a vacation to visit your “snowbird” friends will keep you socially involved.
So, if these options aren’t working or you just need something more to improve your mood, your healthcare provider may recommend seeking help from a psychotherapist. They may offer medications, light box therapy, or talk therapy.
Ketamine therapy is an option to help make it through dark times when nothing else seems to work. Contact 703-844-0184 for a consultation.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur, but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD.
Signs and Symptoms
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.
Symptoms of Major Depression
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Feeling hopeless or worthless
Having low energy
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Having problems with sleep
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:
Having low energy
Craving for carbohydrates
Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
Symptoms of the less frequently occurring summer seasonal affective disorder include:
Poor appetite with associated weight loss
Episodes of violent behavior
Attributes that may increase your risk of SAD include:
Being female. SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men.
Family history. People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.
Having depression or bipolar disorder. The symptoms of depression may worsen with the seasons if you have one of these conditions (but SAD is diagnosed only if seasonal depressions are the most common).
Younger Age. Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults. SAD has been reported even in children and teens.
The causes of SAD are unknown, but research has found some biological clues:
People with SAD may have trouble regulating one of the key neurotransmitters involved in mood, serotonin. One study found that people with SAD have 5 percent more serotonin transporter protein in winter months than summer months. Higher serotonin transporter protein leaves less serotonin available at the synapse because the function of the transporter is to recycle neurotransmitter back into the pre-synaptic neuron.
People with SAD may overproduce the hormone melatonin.Darkness increases production of melatonin, which regulates sleep. As winter days become shorter, melatonin production increases, leaving people with SAD to feel sleepier and more lethargic, often with delayed circadian rhythms.
People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.
Treatments and Therapies
There are four major types of treatment for SAD:
These may be used alone or in combination.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat SAD. The FDA has also approved the use of bupropion, another type of antidepressant, for treating SAD.
Light therapy has been a mainstay of treatment for SAD since the 1980s. The idea behind light therapy is to replace the diminished sunshine of the fall and winter months using daily exposure to bright, artificial light. Symptoms of SAD may be relieved by sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning, on a daily basis from the early fall until spring. Most typically, light boxes filter out the ultraviolet rays and require 20-60 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light, an amount that is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is type of psychotherapy that is effective for SAD. Traditional cognitive behavioral therapy has been adapted for use with SAD (CBT-SAD). CBT-SAD relies on basic techniques of CBT such as identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive thoughts along with a technique called behavioral activation. Behavioral activation seeks to help the person identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable, whether indoors or outdoors, to improve coping with winter.
At present, vitamin D supplementation by itself is not regarded as an effective SAD treatment. The reason behind its use is that low blood levels of vitamin D were found in people with SAD. The low levels are usually due to insufficient dietary intake or insufficient exposure to sunshine. However, the evidence for its use has been mixed. While some studies suggest vitamin D supplementation may be as effective as light therapy, others found vitamin D had no effect.
Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness.
Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.
There are several forms of depressive disorders.
Major depression,—severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.
Persistent depressive disorder—depressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for 2 years.
Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances. They include:
Psychotic depression, which occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false beliefs or a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).
Postpartum depression, which is much more serious than the “baby blues” that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.
Bipolar depression, also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or persistent depressive disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes—from extreme highs (e.g., mania) to extreme lows (e.g., depression).
Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear different. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred. They also cannot be used to diagnose depression.
Some types of depression tend to run in families. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression too. Scientists are studying certain genes that may make some people more prone to depression. Some genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of several genes acting together with environmental or other factors. In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Other depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.
Signs & Symptoms
“It was really hard to get out of bed in the morning. I just wanted to hide under the covers and not talk to anyone. I didn’t feel much like eating and I lost a lot of weight. Nothing seemed fun anymore. I was tired all the time, and I wasn’t sleeping well at night. But I knew I had to keep going because I’ve got kids and a job. It just felt so impossible, like nothing was going to change or get better.”
People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
Signs and symptoms include:
Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
Fatigue and decreased energy
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Overeating, or appetite loss
Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
Who Is At Risk?
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Each year about 6.7% of U.S adults experience major depressive disorder. Women are 70 % more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime. Non-Hispanic blacks are 40% less likely than non-Hispanic whites to experience depression during their lifetime. The average age of onset is 32 years old. Additionally, 3.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have experienced a seriously debilitating depressive disorder.
“I started missing days from work, and a friend noticed that something wasn’t right. She talked to me about the time she had been really depressed and had gotten help from her doctor.”
Depression, even the most severe cases, can be effectively treated. The earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is.
The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor or mental health specialist. Certain medications, and some medical conditions such as viruses or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same symptoms as depression. A doctor can rule out these possibilities by doing a physical exam, interview, and lab tests. If the doctor can find no medical condition that may be causing the depression, the next step is a psychological evaluation.
The doctor may refer you to a mental health professional, who should discuss with you any family history of depression or other mental disorder, and get a complete history of your symptoms. You should discuss when your symptoms started, how long they have lasted, how severe they are, and whether they have occurred before and if so, how they were treated. The mental health professional may also ask if you are using alcohol or drugs, and if you are thinking about death or suicide.
Other illnesses may come on before depression, cause it, or be a consequence of it. But depression and other illnesses interact differently in different people. In any case, co-occurring illnesses need to be diagnosed and treated.
Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, often accompany depression. PTSD can occur after a person experiences a terrifying event or ordeal, such as a violent assault, a natural disaster, an accident, terrorism or military combat. People experiencing PTSD are especially prone to having co-existing depression.
Alcohol and other substance abuse or dependence may also co-exist with depression. Research shows that mood disorders and substance abuse commonly occur together.
Depression also may occur with other serious medical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. People who have depression along with another medical illness tend to have more severe symptoms of both depression and the medical illness, more difficulty adapting to their medical condition, and more medical costs than those who do not have co-existing depression. Treating the depression can also help improve the outcome of treating the co-occurring illness.
Once diagnosed, a person with depression can be treated in several ways. The most common treatments are medication and psychotherapy.
Antidepressants primarily work on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists have found that these particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of the exact ways that they work. The latest information on medications for treating depression is available on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website .
Popular newer antidepressants
Some of the newest and most popular antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), and citalopram (Celexa) are some of the most commonly prescribed SSRIs for depression. Most are available in generic versions. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are similar to SSRIs and include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
SSRIs and SNRIs tend to have fewer side effects than older antidepressants, but they sometimes produce headaches, nausea, jitters, or insomnia when people first start to take them. These symptoms tend to fade with time. Some people also experience sexual problems with SSRIs or SNRIs, which may be helped by adjusting the dosage or switching to another medication.
One popular antidepressant that works on dopamine is bupropion (Wellbutrin). Bupropion tends to have similar side effects as SSRIs and SNRIs, but it is less likely to cause sexual side effects. However, it can increase a person’s risk for seizures.
Tricyclics are older antidepressants. Tricyclics are powerful, but they are not used as much today because their potential side effects are more serious. They may affect the heart in people with heart conditions. They sometimes cause dizziness, especially in older adults. They also may cause drowsiness, dry mouth, and weight gain. These side effects can usually be corrected by changing the dosage or switching to another medication. However, tricyclics may be especially dangerous if taken in overdose. Tricyclics include imipramine and nortriptyline.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are the oldest class of antidepressant medications. They can be especially effective in cases of “atypical” depression, such as when a person experiences increased appetite and the need for more sleep rather than decreased appetite and sleep. They also may help with anxious feelings or panic and other specific symptoms.
However, people who take MAOIs must avoid certain foods and beverages (including cheese and red wine) that contain a substance called tyramine. Certain medications, including some types of birth control pills, prescription pain relievers, cold and allergy medications, and herbal supplements, also should be avoided while taking an MAOI. These substances can interact with MAOIs to cause dangerous increases in blood pressure. The development of a new MAOI skin patch may help reduce these risks. If you are taking an MAOI, your doctor should give you a complete list of foods, medicines, and substances to avoid.
MAOIs can also react with SSRIs to produce a serious condition called “serotonin syndrome,” which can cause confusion, hallucinations, increased sweating, muscle stiffness, seizures, changes in blood pressure or heart rhythm, and other potentially life-threatening conditions. MAOIs should not be taken with SSRIs.
How should I take medication?
All antidepressants must be taken for at least 4 to 6 weeks before they have a full effect. You should continue to take the medication, even if you are feeling better, to prevent the depression from returning.
Medication should be stopped only under a doctor’s supervision. Some medications need to be gradually stopped to give the body time to adjust. Although antidepressants are not habit-forming or addictive, suddenly ending an antidepressant can cause withdrawal symptoms or lead to a relapse of the depression. Some individuals, such as those with chronic or recurrent depression, may need to stay on the medication indefinitely.
In addition, if one medication does not work, you should consider trying another. NIMH-funded research has shown that people who did not get well after taking a first medication increased their chances of beating the depression after they switched to a different medication or added another medication to their existing one.
Sometimes stimulants, anti-anxiety medications, or other medications are used together with an antidepressant, especially if a person has a co-existing illness. However, neither anti-anxiety medications nor stimulants are effective against depression when taken alone, and both should be taken only under a doctor’s close supervision.
Report any unusual side effects to a doctor immediately.
IV Ketamine Therapy
One of the most exciting new treatment options for depression is with a long known drug, ketamine. Ketamine has been used historically as an anesthetic. Recently, it has emerged as an effective treatment option for severe depression (citations below). The mechanism of action for ketamine’s antidepressant effects is not fully understood and hotly debated. However, studies of the neurobiology of depressed patients have revealed possible abnormalities that may have a causal link to depression such as increased inflammatory cytokines, decreased BDNF, and reduced hippocampal volume. Interestingly, there is much overlap in the neurobiology of depression and known consequences of ketamine treatment. Ketamine has been found to reduce neuroinflammation, increase BDNF production and hippocampal volume. Thus, it is highly likely that ketamine possesses a robust pharmacological profile that works collectively to correct abnormalities common to severe depression. Although only FDA-approved as an anesthetic, ketamine is used off-label by many physicians in cases of severe, treatment-resistant depression.
Depression is more common among women than among men. Biological, life cycle, hormonal, and psychosocial factors that women experience may be linked to women’s higher depression rate. Researchers have shown that hormones directly affect the brain chemistry that controls emotions and mood. For example, women are especially vulnerable to developing postpartum depression after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming.
Some women may also have a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is associated with the hormonal changes that typically occur around ovulation and before menstruation begins.
During the transition into menopause, some women experience an increased risk for depression. In addition, osteoporosis—bone thinning or loss—may be associated with depression. Scientists are exploring all of these potential connections and how the cyclical rise and fall of estrogen and other hormones may affect a woman’s brain chemistry.
Finally, many women face the additional stresses of work and home responsibilities, caring for children and aging parents, abuse, poverty, and relationship strains. It is still unclear, though, why some women faced with enormous challenges develop depression, while others with similar challenges do not.
How do men experience depression?
Men often experience depression differently than women. While women with depression are more likely to have feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and excessive guilt, men are more likely to be very tired, irritable, lose interest in once-pleasurable activities, and have difficulty sleeping.
Men may be more likely than women to turn to alcohol or drugs when they are depressed. They also may become frustrated, discouraged, irritable, angry, and sometimes abusive. Some men throw themselves into their work to avoid talking about their depression with family or friends, or behave recklessly. And although more women attempt suicide, many more men die by suicide in the United States.
How do older adults experience depression?
Depression is not a normal part of aging. Studies show that most seniors feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. However, when older adults do have depression, it may be overlooked because seniors may show different, less obvious symptoms. They may be less likely to experience or admit to feelings of sadness or grief.
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish grief from major depression. Grief after loss of a loved one is a normal reaction to the loss and generally does not require professional mental health treatment. However, grief that is complicated and lasts for a very long time following a loss may require treatment. Researchers continue to study the relationship between complicated grief and major depression.
Older adults also may have more medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, or cancer, which may cause depressive symptoms. Or they may be taking medications with side effects that contribute to depression. Some older adults may experience what doctors call vascular depression, also called arteriosclerotic depression or subcortical ischemic depression. Vascular depression may result when blood vessels become less flexible and harden over time, becoming constricted. Such hardening of vessels prevents normal blood flow to the body’s organs, including the brain. Those with vascular depression may have, or be at risk for, co-existing heart disease or stroke.
Although many people assume that the highest rates of suicide are among young people, older white males age 85 and older actually have the highest suicide rate in the United States. Many have a depressive illness that their doctors are not aware of, even though many of these suicide victims visit their doctors within 1 month of their deaths.
Most older adults with depression improve when they receive treatment with an antidepressant, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Research has shown that medication alone and combination treatment are both effective in reducing depression in older adults. Psychotherapy alone also can be effective in helping older adults stay free of depression, especially among those with minor depression. Psychotherapy is particularly useful for those who are unable or unwilling to take antidepressant medication.
How do children and teens experience depression?
Children who develop depression often continue to have episodes as they enter adulthood. Children who have depression also are more likely to have other more severe illnesses in adulthood.
A child with depression may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that a parent may die. Older children may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative and irritable, and feel misunderstood. Because these signs may be viewed as normal mood swings typical of children as they move through developmental stages, it may be difficult to accurately diagnose a young person with depression.
Before puberty, boys and girls are equally likely to develop depression. By age 15, however, girls are twice as likely as boys to have had a major depressive episode.
Depression during the teen years comes at a time of great personal change—when boys and girls are forming an identity apart from their parents, grappling with gender issues and emerging sexuality, and making independent decisions for the first time in their lives. Depression in adolescence frequently co-occurs with other disorders such as anxiety, eating disorders, or substance abuse. It can also lead to increased risk for suicide.
An NIMH-funded clinical trial of 439 adolescents with major depression found that a combination of medication and psychotherapy was the most effective treatment option. Other NIMH-funded researchers are developing and testing ways to prevent suicide in children and adolescents.
Childhood depression often persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, especially if left untreated.
How can I help a loved one who is depressed?
If you know someone who is depressed, it affects you too. The most important thing you can do is help your friend or relative get a diagnosis and treatment. You may need to make an appointment and go with him or her to see the doctor. Encourage your loved one to stay in treatment, or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs after 6 to 8 weeks.
To help your friend or relative
Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.
Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.
Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one’s therapist or doctor.
Invite your loved one out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don’t push him or her to take on too much too soon.
Provide assistance in getting to the doctor’s appointments.
Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.
How can I help myself if I am depressed?
If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. It may be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself. But as you begin to recognize your depression and begin treatment, you will start to feel better.
To Help Yourself
Do not wait too long to get evaluated or treated. There is research showing the longer one waits, the greater the impairment can be down the road. Try to see a professional as soon as possible.
Try to be active and exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed.
Set realistic goals for yourself.
Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what you can as you can.
Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Do not expect to suddenly “snap out of” your depression. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.
Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota and The Mayo Clinic found that ketamine caused an average decrease of 42% on the Children’s Depression Rating Scale(CDRS)—the most widely used rating scale in research trials for assessing the severity of depression and change in depressive symptoms among adolescents. The study recruited adolescents, 12-18 years of age, with treatment-resistant depression (TRD; failure to respond to two previous antidepressant trials). The teens were administered intravenous ketamine (0.5 mg/kg) by infusion six times over two weeks.
The study reported that the average decrease in CDRS-R was 42.5% (p = 0.0004). Five (38%) adolescents met criteria for clinical response (defined as >50% reduction in CDRS-R). Three responders showed sustained remission at 6-week follow-up; relapse occurred within 2 weeks for the other two responders. The ketamine infusions were generally well tolerated; dissociative symptoms and hemodynamic symptoms were transient. Interestingly, higher dose was a significant predictor of treatment response.
“Adolescence is a key time period for emergence of depression and represents an opportune and critical developmental window for intervention to prevent negative outcomes,” the authors wrote in the study.
“Unfortunately, about 40% of adolescents do not respond to their first intervention and only half of non-responders respond to the second treatment,” they said. “Because standard interventions require prolonged periods (e.g., weeks to months) to assess efficacy, serial treatment failures allow illness progression, which in turn worsens the outcome. Hence, novel treatment strategies to address treatment-resistant depression in adolescents are urgently needed.”
The authors concluded that their results demonstrate the potential role for ketamine in treating adolescents with TRD. Additionally, evidence suggested a dose–response relationship; future studies are needed to optimize dose
Yale study found no safety issues with long-term ketamine treatment
Researchers at Yale published a new study titled “Acute and Longer-Term Outcomes Using Ketamine as a Clinical Treatment at the Yale Psychiatric Hospital” in Clinical Psychiatry. In late 2014, Yale began providing ketamine as an off-label therapy on a case-by-case basis for patients who could not participate in research protocols. The authors observed 54 patients that received IV ketamine infusion for the treatment of severe and treatment-resistant mood disorders such as depression.
“Ketamine is being used as an off-label treatment for depression by an increasing number of providers, yet there is very little long-term data on patients who have received ketamine for more than just a few weeks,” Samuel T. Wilkinson, MD,from the department of psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine and Yale Psychiatric Hospital, told Healio Psychiatry.
The Yale researchers studied the acute and longer-term outcomes in this patient population. Importantly, a subset of patients (n=14) received ketamine on a long-term basis, ranging from 12 to 45 total treatments, over a course of 14 to 126 weeks. The researchers found no evidence of cognitive decline, increased proclivity to delusions, or emergence of symptoms consistent with cystitis in this subset of long-term ketamine patients. They also reported that the infusions were generally well-tolerated.
Although this study population was relatively small, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn, this is still an important first step in establishing the long-term safety of ketamine for the treatment of a myriad of diseases that it’s being used to treat
CNN featured a segment on the use of ketamine for treating suicidal ideation–a novel, off-label use for ketamine that is currently being explored in human clinical trials. The segment featured Dr. Sanjay Gupta sharing the story of Alan Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson discussed his experience with suicidal ideation, stating that he had planned his own suicide prior to a psychiatrist suggesting the off-label use of ketamine. Fortunately, ketamine worked for him as it has for many others, completely eliminating all thoughts of suicide and depression.
While ketamine is a long-known, FDA-approved anesthetic, new uses for this old drug have recently been discovered. The new indication that is probably the farthest along is for the treatment of depression. It’s even undergoing phase III clinical trials for the treatment of depression, which are expected to be completed next year. In depression, ketamine’s mechanism of action is still being explored. Scientists know that ketamine antagonizes the NMDA receptor, which causes a number of downstream cascades that may be relevant to it’s antidepressant effects. Ketamine also increases important neuronal growth factors that can create new synaptic connections.
While there are numerous anti-depressants that are already FDA-approved, they don’t always work and–even when they do–it takes weeks to see the effect. This is what’s special about ketamine. The anti-depressant effects of ketamine are instantaneous. In the case of Alan Ferguson, his depression went from severe to mild after the first infusion, and was gone after the second. In cases of depression that involve suicidality, this rapid improvement can be the difference between life and death. Even though ketamine is not yet approved for the treatment of depression or suicidal ideation, there is an abundance of data showing that it works and it’s already being used off-label in the clinic.
Australian researchers completed the world’s first randomized control trial (RCT), assessing the efficacy and safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression in elderly patients.
In this double-blind, controlled, multiple-crossover study with a 6-month follow-up, 16 participants (≥60 years) with treatment-resistant depression who relapsed after remission or did not remit in the RCT were administered an open-label phase. Up to five subcutaneous doses of ketamine (0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, and 0.5 mg/kg) were administered in separate sessions (≥1 week apart), with one active control (midazolam) randomly inserted. Twelve ketamine treatments were given in the open-label phase. Mood, hemodynamic, and psychotomimetic outcomes were assessed by blinded raters. Remitters in each phase were followed for 6 months.
The results, published in the latest American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, provide preliminary evidence that ketamine is effective as an antidepressant – when delivered in repeated intravenous doses.
“What we noticed was that ketamine worked incredibly quickly and incredibly effectively,” Professor Colleen Loo, who led the pilot program told ABC News. “By incredibly effective, we mean going rapidly from severely depressed to being completely well in one day.”
“Some people think, ‘oh maybe it was just a drug induced temporary high’ — and it wasn’t,” she said. “You had the woozy effects in the first hour or so, but the antidepressant effects kicked in later.”
None of the participants experienced problematic side effects, according to the research team who administered the drug through a small injection under the skin.
“Our results indicate a dose-titration method may be particularly useful for older patients, as the best dose was selected for each individual person to maximize ketamine’s benefits while minimizing its adverse side effects,” she said.
The authors noted that further study is needed, however, to understand the risks of ketamine use and possible side effects, such as its impact on liver function in the elderly.
PTSD Treatment – Ketamine is a novel treatment for several psychiatric disorders including: Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Depression, Postpartum Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It was originally FDA approved for anesthesia but is now frequently used off-label due to its positive effects on the various disorders listed above. PTSD is an devastating disorder that has become more and more common but medical treatments overall are still lacking.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a disorder that develops after a traumatic experience. Such trauma sometimes involves combat, car accidents, natural disasters or sexual assaults. Up to 80% of individuals in their life will experience at least one traumatic event but, fortunately, most people do not go on to develop PTSD. The lifetime prevalence of developing PTSD is about 10% and women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Those who do go on to develop PTSD typically will have one or more of the following symptoms:
• traumatic nightmares
• flashbacks taking them back to the event
• distress after exposure to traumatic reminders or stimuli
• avoidance of certain thoughts and situations
• negative thoughts and mood including shame, despair and depression.
A constellation of these symptoms must persist for at least a month for a diagnosis of PTSD to be made.
Most PTSD Treatment are ineffective for some patients and their all generally slow acting—meaning that the patient must wait weeks to have a meaningful impact on the patient’s wellness. Ketamine has now been shown to be effective at managing PTSD in several clinical studies. Moreover, physicians are beginning to present case reports where ketamine has helped their patients. One of the largest benefits of using Ketamine off label for the treatment of depression is that it is generally very fast-acting. Patients typically report feeling better after the first infusion or two. Sometimes, they report feeling 100% better after 5 days of IV ketamine therapy.
Lauren Pestikas sits as she receives an infusion of the drug ketamine during a 45-minute session at an outpatient clinic in Chicago on July 25, 2018. Pestikas struggled with depression and anxiety and made several suicide attempts before starting ketamine treatments earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
CHICAGO (AP) — It was launched decades ago as an anesthetic for animals and people, became a potent battlefield pain reliever in Vietnam and morphed into the trippy club drug Special K.
Now the chameleon drug ketamine is finding new life as an unapproved treatment for depression and suicidal behavior. Clinics have opened around the United States promising instant relief with their “unique” doses of ketamine in IVs, sprays or pills. And desperate patients are shelling out thousands of dollars for treatment often not covered by health insurance, with scant evidence on long-term benefits and risks.
Chicago preschool teacher Lauren Pestikas long struggled with depression and anxiety and made several suicide attempts before trying ketamine earlier this year.
The price tag so far is about $3,000, but “it’s worth every dime and penny,” said the 36-year-old.
Pestikas said she feels much better for a few weeks after each treatment, but the effects wear off and she scrambles to find a way to pay for another one.
For now, ketamine has not received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating depression, though doctors can use it for that purpose.
Some studies show ketamine can provide relief within hours for tough-to-treat depression and suicidal behavior and clinics promising unproven benefits have popped up nationwide. But more research is needed to know long-term benefits and risks. (Oct. 31)
Ketamine has been around since the 1960s and is widely used as an anesthesia drug during surgery because it doesn’t suppress breathing. Compared to opioids such as morphine, ketamine isn’t as addictive and doesn’t cause breathing problems. And some studies have shown that ketamine can ease symptoms within hours for the toughest cases.
Its potential effects on depression were discovered in animal experiments in the late 1980s and early 1990s showing that glutamate, a brain chemical messenger, might play a role in depression, and that drugs including ketamine that target the glutamate pathway might work as antidepressants.
Conventional antidepressants like Prozac target serotonin, a different chemical messenger, and typically take weeks to months to kick in — a lag that can cause severely depressed patients to sink deeper into despair.
A vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, on display in Chicago on July 25, 2018. AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
Ketamine’s potential for almost immediate if temporary relief is what makes it so exciting, said Dr. Jennifer Vande Voort, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist who has used ketamine to treat depression patients since February.
“We don’t have a lot of things that provide that kind of effect. What I worry about is that it gets so hyped up,” she said.
The strongest studies suggest it’s most useful and generally safe in providing short-term help for patients who have not benefited from antidepressants. That amounts to about one-third of the roughly 300 million people with depression worldwide.
“It truly has revolutionized the field,” changing scientists’ views on how depression affects the brain and showing that rapid relief is possible, said Yale University psychiatrist Dr. Gerard Sanacora, who has done research for or consulted with companies seeking to develop ketamine-based drugs.
But to become standard depression treatment, he said, much more needs to be known.
Last year, Sanacora co-authored an American Psychiatric Association task force review of ketamine treatment for mood disorders that noted the benefits but said “major gaps” remain in knowledge about long-term effectiveness and safety. Most studies have been small, done in research settings and not in the real world.
When delivered through an IV, ketamine can cause a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure that could be dangerous for some patients. Ketamine also can cause hallucinations that some patients find scary.
“There are some very real concerns,” Sanacora said. “We do know this drug can be abused, so we have to be very careful about how this is developed.”
Dr. Rahul Khare, an emergency medicine specialist in Chicago, first learned about ketamine’s other potential benefits a decade ago from a depressed and anxious patient he was preparing to sedate to fix a repeat dislocated shoulder.
“He said, ‘Doc, give me what I got last time. For about three weeks after I got it I felt so much better,’” Khare recalled.
Khare became intrigued and earlier this year began offering ketamine for severe depression at an outpatient clinic he opened a few years ago. He also joined the American Society for Ketamine Physicians, formed a year ago representing about 140 U.S. doctors, nurses, psychologists and others using ketamine for depression or other nonapproved uses.
Dr. Rahul Khare poses for a portrait at his outpatient Chicago clinic on July 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
There are about 150 U.S. ketamine clinics, compared with about 20 three years ago, said society co-founder Dr. Megan Oxley.
Khare said the burgeoning field “is like a new frontier” where doctors gather at meetings and compare notes. He has treated about 50 patients with depression including Pestikas. They’re typically desperate for relief after failing to respond to other antidepressants. Some have lost jobs and relationships because of severe depression, and most find that ketamine allows them to function, Khare said.
Typical treatment at his clinic involves six 45-minute sessions over about two weeks, costing $550 each. Some insurers will pay about half of that, covering Khare’s office visit cost. Patients can receive “booster” treatments. They must sign a four-page consent form that says benefits may not be long-lasting, lists potential side effects, and in bold letters states that the treatment is not government-approved.
At a recent session, Pestikas’s seventh, she leaned back on a reclining white examining-room chair as a nurse hooked her up to a heart and blood pressure monitor. She grimaced as a needle was slipped into the top of her left palm. Khare reached up with a syringe to inject a small dose of ketamine into an IV bag hanging above the chair, then dimmed the lights, pulled the window curtains and asked if she had questions and was feeling OK.
“No questions, just grateful,” Pestikas replied, smiling.
Pestikas listened to music on her iPhone and watched psychedelic videos. She said it was like “a controlled acid trip” with pleasant hallucinations. The trip ends soon after the IV is removed, but Pestikas said she feels calm and relaxed the rest of the day, and that the mood boost can last weeks.
Studies suggest that a single IV dose of ketamine far smaller than used for sedation or partying can help many patients gain relief within about four hours and lasting nearly a week or so.
Exactly how ketamine works is unclear, but one idea is that by elevating glutamate levels, ketamine helps nerve cells re-establish connections that were disabled by depression, said ketamine expert Dr. Carlos Zarate, chief of experimental therapies at the National Institute of Mental Health.
A small Stanford University study published in August suggested that ketamine may help relieve depression by activating the brain’s opioid receptors.
Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Allergan are among drug companies developing ketamine-like drugs for depression. Janssen leads the effort with its nasal spray esketamine. The company filed a new drug application in September.
Meanwhile, dozens of studies are underway seeking to answer some of the unknowns about ketamine including whether repeat IV treatments work better for depression and if there’s a way to zero in on which patients are most likely to benefit.
Until there are answers, Zarate of the mental health institute said ketamine should be a last-resort treatment for depression after other methods have failed.
CLEARWATER, Fla., Sept. 27, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Long used as an safe and effective sedative for surgery, Ketamine has found new life as a treatment for severe depression, PTSD and suicidal ideation. Praised by some mental health experts, the drug so far has achieved very good results in clinical trials. The military now recognizes its’ potential, and last fall Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio became part of study on its effects. BAMC will treat active-duty troops with Ketamine, while a VA hospital near Yale will treat veterans. Another study is currently underway at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Cleveland, Ohio. The VA is trying to stem the tide of rising suicide rates among veterans, which average 22 per day – that’s one suicide every 65 minutes.
A staff psychiatrist at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center in Ohio, Dr. Punit Vaidya stated “30% of individuals with major depression don’t respond to traditional medications, so people can become desperate for things that work, because they can have a huge impact on their quality of life, and their overall functioning. The effects of the ketamine infusion can often be seen within a day, if not hours,” Vaidya explained. “If you look at their depression ratings and suicidal ratings given right before treatment and even four hours later you can see a significant reduction and I think that’s really quite remarkable,” Vaidya said.
When asked what prompted his use of IV Ketamine for PTSD and Depression and if any universities were involved in its development, Dr. Hanna went on to say: “There have been multiple universities involved in the research such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford that have proven the success rate of IV Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression. Since I was already successfully using IV Ketamine for CRPS/RSD,Fibromyalgia, Neuropathy, and Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, with over 10,000 infusions to date, I wanted to expand the treatment for PTSD, Depression, bipolar and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. Since I am not a psychiatrist, I do not treat depression, but I work with qualified psychiatrists, and if he or she feels the patient has failed other treatment modalities, I then administer IV Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression.”
Murrough, Burdick, Levitch et al. Neurocognitive Effects of Ketamine and Association with Antidepressant Response in Individuals with Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial Neuropsychopharmacology 2015 Apr; 40(5): 1084-1090 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367458/
We will ask you to fast for 8 hours before your infusion. Once you have checked in, you will complete a questionnaire to assess your current status. The IV will be started in your hand or your arm using a small catheter. This may feel like a sting from a small bug bite. The Ketamine will be administered through your IV over a period of 40 minutes. We will take your vital signs before, during, and after the infusion. After resting for an additional 15-20 minutes after the infusion, you will be discharged home with your driver.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that has been available since the 1960’s. In high doses, it can cause a ‘dissociative anesthesia” which induces hypnosis like states as well as unconsciousness. Around 2000, scientists started looking at Ketamine IV infusions carefully when its clinical usefulness was expanded to include a role in the management of mood disorders as well as chronic pain.
Why can I not drive the day of the infusion?
Ketamine is a potent anesthetic. As with any anesthetic, we advise our patients to NOT operate any heavy machinery for the remainder of the day due to potential residual effects.
What are the side effects?
Less than 2% of people will experience side effects. Some of the common side effects are: drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, poor coordination, blurred vision, and feeling strange or unreal. Most of these symptoms dissipate after the first hour of receiving the infusion.
Are there certain conditions that are contra-indications for Ketamine treatment?
Yes. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, uncontrolled hypertension, history of psychosis, history of failed Ketamine infusion treatment, history of substance abuse or dependence within the year (patients will undergo a screening process) you will not qualify for Ketamine infusion treatments.
How will I know if I need a booster infusion and how frequently will I require them?
The duration of antidepressant efficacy after the initial treatment is different for everyone. The studies show that the variance can be 15 days to indefinitely. This is quite a range and unfortunately, there are no predictors for the duration.
Is there a guarantee that this will work for me?
Unfortunately, we cannot give guarantees. Studies have shown that 70% of people will obtain efficacy. After the first 2 infusions, we will be able to ascertain whether the infusions will work for you. We will not advise you to continue your treatment after the first 2 infusions if we do not see a certain amount of improvement.
Isn’t Ketamine addictive?
Ketamine has the potential to be addictive. Studies have shown that at these doses and frequency, Ketamine is not addictive.
Do I have to continue my current treatments for depression?
Yes. We advise that you alert your current health care provider that you are undergoing these treatments and that you maintain your current regimen. It can be dangerous to stop taking your medications without the care of a physician. Our patients have a brighter outlook and a positive drive after their treatment that has allowed them to have higher success rates with psychotherapy. We will be happy to work with your current health care provider to provide the optimal outcome.
The drug Ketamine is considered a breakthrough treatment for depression and some other neuropsychiatric conditions. Below are excerpts from recent articles discussing this revolutionary treatment and the links to the full articles.
Long used as an anaesthetic and analgesic, most people familiar with ketamine know of it for this purpose. Others know it as a party drug that can give users an out-of-body experience, leaving them completely disconnected from reality. Less well known is its growing off-label use in the USA for depression, in many cases when other options have been exhausted.
David Feifel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the first clinicians to use ketamine off-label to treat depression at UCDS’s Center for Advanced Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders, which he recently founded. “Currently approved medications for depression all have about the same, very limited efficacy. A large percentage of patients with depression do not get an adequate level of relief from these antidepressants even when they have tried several different ones and even when other drugs known to augment their effects are added to them”, Feifel tells The Lancet Psychiatry. “The stagnation in current antidepressant medication on the one hand, and the tremendous number of treatment-resistant patients, has propelled me to explore truly novel treatments like ketamine.”
Compelling published study results and case reports exist of patients’ depression—in some cases deeply entrenched depression that has lasted months or even years—alleviating within hours of use of ketamine. However, critics have warned that the drug has not been studied sufficiently (at least outside clinical trials), and also emphasized the cost. Patients can pay more than $1000 per session for treatment that must usually be repeated several times. That cost is rarely covered by the patient’s medical insurance.
Advocates of ketamine use in depression are excited because it has a different mechanism of action to standard antidepressants, which affect signalling by monoamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin, noradrenaline, or dopamine. Ketamine is thought to act by blocking N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain, which interact with the amino acid neurotransmitter glutamate.
Feifel states that he has patients who have been receiving ketamine treatments every 2–4 weeks for long periods, some for around 3 years, and has not yet seen any safety issues arise.
Pharmaceutical companies are entering this exciting arena by attempting to develop new drugs based on ketamine without similar side-effects. Feifel dismisses the notion that the dissociative so-called trip induced by ketamine is actually an important negative side-effect. “Although I have had a couple patients have unpleasant ‘trips’, it’s exceedingly rare, usually dose related, and very transitory due to ketamine’s rapid metabolism.” Feifel says that, more often than not, patients find the trip to be positive, or even spiritual, and believe it is an important component of the antidepressant effect they experience afterwards. “There is no doubt the dissociative effect represents a logistical issue, requiring monitoring—and this should be addressed in any approval given for ketamine”, he adds.
Feifel says that it is not for him, but for his patients to decide where the balance of risks and benefits lies in trying ketamine to treat their depression”One could make a compelling argument that it’s unethical to withhold ketamine treatments from someone who has chronic, severe treatment resistant depression. But I know this from the patients who tell me they would not be in this world right now if it were not for the ketamine.”
Feifel concludes that it is straightforward to talk to TRD patients about ketamine. “I tell them all the relevant information. The efficacy rates, time to onset of benefits, duration limitations, alternatives, lack of insurance coverage, and other information. My job is to make sure they understand the parameters of the treatment, not to decide whether they should do it.”
Onetime Party Drug Hailed as Miracle for Treating Severe Depression
Washington Post, Feb 2, 2016
Ketamine, popularly known as the psychedelic club drug Special K, has been around since the early 1960s. It is a staple anesthetic in emergency rooms, regularly used for children when they come in with broken bones and dislocated shoulders. It’s an important tool in burn centers and veterinary medicine, as well as a notorious date-rape drug, known for its power to quickly numb and render someone immobile. Since 2006, dozens of studies have reported that it can also reverse the kind of severe depression that traditional antidepressants often don’t touch.
Experts are calling it the most significant advance in mental health in more than half a century. They point to studies showing ketamine not only produces a rapid and robust antidepressant effect; it also puts a quick end to suicidal thinking. “This is the next big thing in psychiatry,” says L. Alison McInnes, a San Francisco psychiatrist who over the past year has enrolled 58 severely depressed patients in Kaiser’s San Francisco clinic. The excitement stems from the fact that it’s working for patients who have spent years cycling through antidepressants, mood stabilizers and various therapies. “Psychiatry has run out of gas” in trying to help depressed patients for whom nothing has worked, she says. “There is a significant number of people who don’t respond to antidepressants, and we’ve had nothing to offer them other than cognitive behavior therapy, electroshock therapy and transcranial stimulation.”
Ketamine does, however, have one major limitation: Its relief is temporary. Clinical trials at NIMH have found that relapse usually occurs about a week after a single infusion.
A study published in the journal Science in 2010 suggested that ketamine restores brain function through a process called synaptogenesis. Scientists at Yale University found that ketamine not only improved depression-like behavior in rats but also promoted the growth of new synaptic connections between neurons in the brain.
Patients often describe a kind of lucid dreaming or dissociative state in which they lose track of time and feel separated from their bodies. Many enjoy it; some don’t. But studies at NIMH and elsewhere suggest that the psychedelic experience may play a small but significant role in the drug’s efficacy.
As a drug once known almost exclusively to anesthesiologists, ketamine now falls into a gray zone. As the use of ketamine looks likely to grow, many psychiatrists say that use of ketamine for depression should be left to them. “The bottom line is you’re treating depression,” says psychiatrist David Feifel, director of the Center for Advanced Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders at the University of California at San Diego. “And this isn’t garden-variety depression. The people coming in for ketamine are people who have the toughest, potentially most dangerous depressions. I think it’s a disaster if anesthesiologists feel competent to monitor these patients.”
Onetime party drug hailed as miracle for treating severe depression
A Ketamine intravenous drip being prepared. (Amarett Jans/Courtesy of Enrique Abreu)
February 1, 2016
It was November 2012 when Dennis Hartman, a Seattle business executive, managed to pull himself out of bed, force himself to shower for the first time in days and board a plane that would carry him across the country to a clinical trial at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda.
After a lifetime of profound depression, 25 years of therapy and cycling through 18 antidepressants and mood stabilizers, Hartman, then 46, had settled on a date and a plan to end it all. The clinical trial would be his last attempt at salvation.
For 40 minutes, he sat in a hospital room as an IV drip delivered ketamine through his system. Several more hours passed before it occurred to him that all his thoughts of suicide had evaporated.
“My life will always be divided into the time before that first infusion and the time after,” Hartman says today. “That sense of suffering and pain draining away. I was bewildered by the absence of pain.”
Ketamine could be speedy depression treatment
Ketamine is being used by researchers at The National Institutes of Health as a treatment for major depression.(National Institutes of Health)
Ketamine, popularly known as the psychedelic club drug Special K, has been around since the early 1960s. It is a staple anesthetic in emergency rooms, regularly used for children when they come in with broken bones and dislocated shoulders. It’s an important tool in burn centers and veterinary medicine, as well as a notorious date-rape drug, known for its power to quickly numb and render someone immobile.
Since 2006, dozens of studies have reported that it can also reverse the kind of severe depression that traditional antidepressants often don’t touch. The momentum behind the drug has now reached the American Psychiatric Association, which, according to members of a ketamine task force, seems headed toward a tacit endorsement of the drug for treatment-resistant depression.
Experts are calling it the most significant advance in mental health in more than half a century. They point to studies showing ketamine not only produces a rapid and robust antidepressant effect; it also puts a quick end to suicidal thinking.
Traditional antidepressants and mood stabilizers, by comparison, can take weeks or months to work. In 2010, a major study published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, reported that drugs in a leading class of antidepressants were no better than placebos for most depression.
A growing number of academic medical centers, including Yale University, the University of California at San Diego, the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, have begun offering ketamine treatments off-label for severe depression, as has Kaiser Permanente in Northern California.
The ‘next big thing’
“This is the next big thing in psychiatry,” says L. Alison McInnes, a San Francisco psychiatrist who over the past year has enrolled 58 severely depressed patients in Kaiser’s San Francisco clinic. She says her long-term success rate of 60 percent for people with treatment-resistant depression who try the drug has persuaded Kaiser to expand treatment to two other clinics in the Bay Area. The excitement stems from the fact that it’s working for patients who have spent years cycling through antidepressants, mood stabilizers and various therapies.
“Psychiatry has run out of gas” in trying to help depressed patients for whom nothing has worked, she says. “There is a significant number of people who don’t respond to antidepressants, and we’ve had nothing to offer them other than cognitive behavior therapy, electroshock therapy and transcranial stimulation.”
McInnes is a member of the APA’s ketamine task force, assigned to codify the protocol for how and when the drug will be given. She says she expects the APA to support the use of ketamine treatment early this year.
The guidelines, which follow the protocol used in the NIMH clinical trial involving Hartman, call for six IV drips over a two-week period. The dosage is very low, about a tenth of the amount used in anesthesia. And when it works, it does so within minutes or hours.
“It’s not subtle,” says Enrique Abreu, a Portland, Ore., anesthesiologist who began treating depressed patients with it in 2012. “It’s really obvious if it’s going to be effective.
“And the response rate is unbelievable. This drug is 75 percent effective, which means that three-quarters of my patients do well. Nothing in medicine has those kind of numbers.”
So far, there is no evidence of addiction at the low dose in which infusions are delivered. Ketamine does, however, have one major limitation: Its relief is temporary. Clinical trials at NIMH have found that relapse usually occurs about a week after a single infusion.
Ketamine works differently from traditional antidepressants, which target the brain’s serotonin and noradrenalin systems. It blocks N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), a receptor in the brain that is activated by glutamate, a neurotransmitter.
In excessive quantities, glutamate becomes an excitotoxin, meaning that it overstimulates brain cells.
“Ketamine almost certainly modifies the function of synapses and circuits, turning certain circuits on and off,” explains Carlos Zarate Jr., NIMH’s chief of neurobiology and treatment of mood disorders, who has led the research on ketamine. “The result is a rapid antidepressant effect.”
A study published in the journal Science in 2010 suggested that ketamine restores brain function through a process called synaptogenesis. Scientists at Yale University found that ketamine not only improved depression-like behavior in rats but also promoted the growth of new synaptic connections between neurons in the brain.
Even a low-dose infusion can cause intense hallucinations. Patients often describe a kind of lucid dreaming or dissociative state in which they lose track of time and feel separated from their bodies. Many enjoy it; some don’t. But studies at NIMH and elsewhere suggest that the psychedelic experience may play a small but significant role in the drug’s efficacy.
“It’s one of the things that’s really striking,” says Steven Levine, a Princeton, N.J., psychiatrist who estimates that he has treated 500 patients with ketamine since 2011. “With depression, people often feel very isolated and disconnected. Ketamine seems to leave something indelible behind. People use remarkably similar language to describe their experience: ‘a sense of connection to other people,’ ‘a greater sense of connection to the universe.’ ”
Although bladder problems and cognitive deficits have been reported among long-term ketamine abusers, none of these effects have been observed in low-dose clinical trials. In addition to depression, the drug is being studied for its effectiveness in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme anxiety and Rett syndrome, a rare developmental disorder on the autism spectrum.
The drug’s fleeting remission effect has led many patients to seek booster infusions. Hartman, for one, began his search before he even left his hospital room in Bethesda.
Four years ago, he couldn’t find a doctor in the Pacific Northwest willing to administer ketamine. “At the time, psychiatrists hovered between willful ignorance and outright opposition to it,” says Hartman, whose depression began creeping back a few weeks after his return to Seattle.
It took nine months before he found an anesthesiologist in New York who was treating patients with ketamine. Soon, he was flying back and forth across the country for bimonthly infusions.
Upon his request, he received the same dosage and routine he’d received in Bethesda: six infusions over two weeks. And with each return to New York, his relief seemed to last a little longer. These days, he says that his periods of remission between infusions often stretch to six months. He says he no longer takes any medication for depression besides ketamine.
“I don’t consider myself permanently cured, but now it’s something I can manage,” Hartman says, “like diabetes or arthritis. Before, it was completely unmanageable. It dominated my life and prevented me from functioning.”
In 2012 he helped found the Ketamine Advocacy Network, a group that vets ketamine clinics, advocates for insurance coverage and spreads the word about the drug.
And word has indeed spread. Ketamine clinics, typically operated by psychiatrists or anesthesiologists, are popping up in major cities around the country.
Levine, for one, is about to expand from New Jersey to Denver and Baltimore. Portland’s Abreu recently opened a second clinic in Seattle.
Depression is big business. An estimated 15.7 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2014, according to the NIMH.
“There’s a great unmet need in depression,” says Gerard Sanacora, director of the Yale Depression Research Program. “We think this is an extremely important treatment. The concern comes if people start using ketamine before CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] or Prozac. Maybe someday it will be a first-line treatment. But we’re not there yet.”
Sanacora says a lot more research is required. “It’s a medication that can have big changes in heart rate and blood pressure. There are so many unknowns, I’m not sure it should be used more widely till we understand its long-term benefits and risks.”
While a single dose of ketamine is cheaper than a $2 bottle of water, the cost to the consumer varies wildly, running anywhere between $500 and $1,500 per treatment. The drug itself is easily available in any pharmacy, and doctors are free to prescribe it — as with any medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration — for off-label use. Practitioners attribute the expense to medical monitoring of patients and IV equipment required during an infusion.
There is no registry for tracking the number of patients being treated with ketamine for depression, the frequency of those treatments, dosage levels, follow-up care and adverse effects.
“We clearly need more standardization in its use,” Zarate says. “We still don’t know what the proper dose should be. We need to do more studies. It still, in my opinion, should be used predominantly in a research setting or highly specialized clinic.”
As a drug once known almost exclusively to anesthesiologists, ketamine now falls into a gray zone.
“Most anesthesiologists don’t do mental health, and there’s no way a psychiatrist feels comfortable putting an IV in someone’s arm,” Abreu says.
It’s a drug, in other words, that practically demands collaboration. Instead, it has set off a turf war. As the use of ketamine looks likely to grow, many psychiatrists say that use of ketamine for depression should be left to them.
“The bottom line is you’re treating depression,” says psychiatrist David Feifel, director of the Center for Advanced Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders at the University of California at San Diego. “And this isn’t garden-variety depression. The people coming in for ketamine are people who have the toughest, potentially most dangerous depressions. I think it’s a disaster if anesthesiologists feel competent to monitor these patients. Many of them have bipolar disorder and are in danger of becoming manic. My question [to anesthesiologists] is: ‘Do you feel comfortable that you can pick up mania?’ ”
But ketamine has flourished from the ground up and with little or no advertising. The demand has come primarily from patients and their families; Zarate, for instance, says he receives “at least 100 emails a day” from patients.
Nearly every one of them wants to know where they can get it.
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