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Ketamine may treat harmful drinking behavior by ‘rewriting drinking memories,’ researchers say

(CNN)A single dose of ketamine may be able to curb harmful drinking behavior by “rewriting drinking memories,” according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.The researchers say that, when coupled with an exercise involving beer that pulls memories of alcohol to the foreground, there’s evidence that the drug can disrupt how the brain associates these cues — like the smell or taste of beer — to its perceived “reward,” making relapse less likely.”It’s those kinds of associations that we’re trying to break down,” explained study author Ravi Das, an associate professor at University College London who specializes in psychopharmacology. “We’re not talking about people’s explicit recollection of the fact that they drank in the past.” FDA approves ketamine-like nasal spray for depressionKetamine is a powerful medication used in hospitals primarily as an anesthetic, though it has also been used illegally as a club drug, often referred to as Special K. It generates an intense high and dissociative effects.  “It’s an intriguing approach that builds on existing literature in a couple of areas,” said Dr. Henry Kranzler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.Earlier studies have explored ketamine for alcohol, cocaine and opioid addiction — but many had small sample sizes, limited follow-up and lack of placebo, according to experts. Das said it’s also difficult to blind participants to whether they’ve received ketamine or a placebo because of its “strong effects.”Other research has shown the drug’s potential to counter depression and suicidal ideation. In March, a close relative of ketamine — called esketamine and sold under the name Spravato in the form of a nasal spray — was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treatment-resistant depression.The new study recruited 90 “beer-preferring” people with potentially harmful drinking patterns from internet ads and separated them into groups: those who underwent an exercise involving alcohol-related cues and received intravenous ketamine in a controlled environment; those who completed the exercise but received a placebo; and those who received ketamine alone. While the authors said participants “showed a clearly harmful and problematic pattern of drinking,” they were not seeking treatment for an alcohol use disorder and had not been formally diagnosed with such.  But there was some heterogeneity between the groups. While the first group reduced their drinking to the largest degree, they also happened to drink more to begin with — “and therefore their consumption was more likely to decline, a phenomenon known as regression to the mean,” explained Matt Field, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield in the UK, in an emailed statement.After the treatment, there wasn’t a significant difference between the three groups in terms of how much alcohol they drank. Nine months later, average weekly consumption was roughly the same across the board. The authors say this may have been influenced by losing participants to follow-up.Field said the findings are “promising,” but the claim that the full treatment protocol “leads to ‘unprecedented’ long-lasting reductions in alcohol consumption are not justified on the basis of this data.”Das pointed out other layers to the data, however: Those who completed the exercise and received ketamine had less desire to drink, and they drank less frequently. In addition, there was a correlation among that group between concentrations of ketamine and its breakdown products in the blood, and the reduction in how much participants drank.”People all vary in how quickly they metabolize” and excrete ketamine and its byproducts, Das said. “That level of individual variability with ketamine actually predicts drinking outcomes subsequently.” 

The group that received ketamine alone saw improvements, too, but not to the same degree as those presented with alcohol-related cues, according to the authors.Kranzler said the study is an intriguiguing proof-of-principle that he suspects will spur subsequent studies needed to replicated these findings.But an important question, he added, “is to what degree could combined psychosocial intervention — cognitive behavioral intervention, for example — synergize with or at least augment the pharmacological effect” of ketamine.”That’s the kind of treatment study that I think would make a lot of sense,” he added. “So this wouldn’t be used in isolation.”

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A dose of ketamine could lessen the lure of alcohol

The hallucinogenic drug may help treat addiction by weakening past memories of drinking

Ketamine can reduce harmful drinking by pharmacologically rewriting drinking memories

A single dose of ketamine may cut down problematic drinking. Taken in the right context, the hallucinogenic drug may be able to weaken the pull of the cues that trigger people to drink beer, researchers report November 26 in Nature Communications.

Ketamine’s influence on people’s drinking was modest. Still, the results might be a time when “small effects tell a big story,” says addiction researcher David Epstein of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore. “If a seemingly small one-time experience in a lab produces any effects that are detectable later in real life, the data are probably pointing toward something important.”

The study hinges on the idea that addiction, in a way, is a memory disorder. People learn to associate a drug or alcohol with the good feelings it brings. Cues in the world, such as the smell or picture of a beer, can trigger those memories — and cravings. “We’re trying to break down those memories to stop that process from happening, and to stop people from relapsing,” says study coauthor Ravi Das, a psychopharmacologist at University College London.

Ketamine is an anesthetic, that at lower doses, has also shown promise as a treatment for severe depression (SN: 3/21/19). The drug can also affect memories. One of ketamine’s effects in the body is to interfere with a molecule called NMDA, which is involved in reforming memories after they are called up.

Das and his colleagues recruited 90 people who said they drank too much beer, though none was formally diagnosed with alcohol addiction. First, participants were exposed to pictures of beer and even got to drink one in the lab. During the experience, they rated their beer cravings, enjoyment of drinking, and after the beer was gone, the desire to have another one.

A few days later, the participants returned to the lab and were split into three groups. People in one group were again shown pictures of beer to jog their memories. To make the memory recall extra strong, the researchers served up actual beer, but then, in a twist, took it away before participants could drink it. The bait-and-switch maneuver was key, Das says. “You have to generate the element of surprise,” he says.

As a comparison, a second group was shown images of orange juice instead of beer. Then people in both of these groups got an intravenous dose of ketamine. A third group had beer memories called up, but received no ketamine.

A week after the procedure, the people who had their beer memories jogged before receiving ketamine reported less desire to drink, and less enjoyment of beer — a reduction that wasn’t as strong for the other two groups of participants. The people who had their beer-drinking memories jogged and received ketamine also reported drinking less.

The results were surprising, Das says, because attempts to curb people’s drinking in their daily lives are rarely successful (SN: 8/9/17). “You get jaded. Not a lot seems to work,” he says.

Nine months after the procedure, all of the participants, including those who hadn’t received ketamine, had roughly halved their beer drinking — an across-the-board drop that could be explained by the self-awareness that comes simply from enrolling in a study, says Epstein. “Behavior can change for all sorts of reasons that aren’t specific to the experimental treatment,” he says. The interesting thing here, he says, is the initial decline in drinking among people who had ketamine while they were reminded of beer.

More research is needed to confirm ketamine’s short-term effect on drinking, and see how long it might last. Das and his colleagues plan on testing ketamine on more people with problematic drinking habits in clinical trials. The researchers are also trying to weaken other sorts of problematic memories, such as those involved in post-traumatic stress disorder.

As a drug that can be abused, ketamine comes with baggage that may make people reluctant to see it as a way to treat addictions. But if a single dose of ketamine can slow excessive drinking, “then that’s quite an easy trade-off from a health perspective,” Das says. “If it works, it works.”

A Single Dose Of Ketamine Might Help Heavy Drinkers, Study Finds

What if a single dose of ketamine could make a heavy drinker dramatically cut back on booze?

A team at University College London thinks that ketamine may be able to “rewrite” memories that shape a person’s relationship with alcohol. Scientists say that participants who were given ketamine as part of an experimental study dramatically reduced their average alcohol intake for months after the initial dose. Their research was published Tuesday in Nature Communications.

Ketamine — sometimes known as a club drug called Special K that can produce hallucinations — has been shown to be a powerful and fast-acting treatment for depression. Researchers also are looking into whether ketamine can help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The U.K. findings may signal yet another use for the drug for hard-to-treat conditions.

In general, the treatment options for alcoholism “aren’t particularly effective for the majority of people, particularly over the long term,” says Ravi Das, a UCL psychopharmacologist and the study’s lead researcher.

Das thinks part of the problem is that current remedies don’t necessarily help patients deal with positive memories of drinking that could make them want to drink again.

“When people become addicted, they’re learning that kind of behavior in response to things in their environment,” he says. “Those memories, those associative trigger memories, can be really long lasting and really kind of ingrained. And current treatments don’t target those.”

The researchers thought ketamine might be able to target a heavy drinker’s memories, particularly if people had their memories of drinking triggered just before they received a dose of the drug.

To test this, they recruited 90 people who drank much more than average — an average of about four to five pints of beer a day, or about five times the U.K.’s recommended maximum — but had not previously been diagnosed with alcoholism and were not receiving treatment.

On the first day of the experiment, participants were shown pictures of alcoholic drinks and were asked to rate how strong their urge to drink was. All of them were then allowed to drink a beer.

The next day, they were divided into three groups, and none of them received beer. One group did the exercise in which they saw pictures of drinks — to stimulate their memories — and then received a dose of ketamine. The second group saw the drinks and then got a placebo drug. The final group was shown no pictures and received ketamine.

The results were dramatic. Ten days later, those people who did the memory exercise and got ketamine reported a significant drop in their alcohol intake. A follow-up nine months into the experiment showed that their alcohol consumption was half of what it had been.

Meanwhile, the group that got ketamine and didn’t have their memories triggered saw a smaller but still significant reduction in drinking, both at the 10-day mark and nine months later. The placebo group also reported a decrease, albeit a more modest one.

From Chaos To Calm: A Life Changed By Ketamine

From Chaos To Calm: A Life Changed By Ketamine

So why would stimulating memories of drinking prior to a ketamine dose seem to be so effective in reducing alcohol consumption? Das says ketamine is thought to block certain receptors in the brain that help to “restabilize” a memory — such as pleasure from drinking. “You’re kind of stopping the restabilization, and the memory is weakened,” he notes.

John Krystal, head of the psychiatry department at Yale School of Medicine, was among the first researchers to study how ketamine could be helpful to patients who have depression. He says ketamine doesn’t erase memories but can help rewrite them.

“You can help them have a better and more balanced approach to it,” Krystal says. “Like instead of the idea that alcohol is always good no matter how much you drink … someone could instead say, ‘You know, I don’t really need to drink this much.’ “

That lines up with what the participants in the U.K. experiment reported. Das says they “kind of felt the urge to drink less” and “that might be because of this reduction in the way that environmental triggers can spark off the urge to drink.”

Krystal, who was not involved in the research, says this suggests that ketamine could be useful for other conditions that are exacerbated by certain kinds of memories. The drug, he says, could “help them to get control of what they really think and believe about things like alcohol or other drugs, abuse or their traumatic experiences, which otherwise kind of take over their lives in ways that are very maladaptive.”

“I would say this is a very cool study,” Krystal says. “And I think if the findings can be replicated, then it opens up a new window about a strategy to treat alcohol-use disorders.”

Still, he cautions that this is a fairly new idea and that “there are a lot of complexities here that need to be worked out.” Complexities such as whether people with high tolerance to alcohol respond differently to ketamine or whether there’s something inherent about ketamine that makes people want to drink less even without memory recall. “That’s just the nature of research — no single study can really answer all of the questions,” Krystal says.

Das says he hopes that one day, following more study and testing, ketamine could be used in clinical settings to help patients with alcoholism.

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Mindfulness-Based Prevention Outcomes for Cocaine Dependence Improved by Ketamine Injection

A single ketamine infusion improved several treatment outcomes in adults with cocaine dependence who were engaged in mindfulness-based behavior modification, according to study data published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Individuals seeking treatment for cocaine dependence (n=55) were randomly assigned to receive a 40-minute intravenous infusion of either ketamine (0.5 mg/kg) or midazolam (0.025 mg/kg) as part of a five-week trial. Patients were hospitalized for five days in a psychiatric research unit, during which time they received daily sessions of mindfulness-based relapse prevention. On day 2, patients received their infusion; on day 5, they were discharged. Patients then attended twice-weekly follow-up visits for four weeks, at which they continued their sessions and were assessed for various clinical variables. Cocaine use after discharge was assessed via patient interview and urine toxicology screening. A six-month follow-up interview was also conducted by telephone.

Demographic and clinical variables were similar in patients who received ketamine (n=27) and patients who received midazolam (n=28). Route of cocaine ingestion was controlled for in all analyses. A total of 48.2% of patients in the ketamine group remained abstinent during the last two weeks of the trial compared with 10.7% of the midazolam group. The odds of end-of-study abstinence in the ketamine group was nearly six times that in the midazolam group (odds ratio, 5.7; 95% CI, 1.3-25.1; =.02). Per Cox regression analysis, the ketamine group was 53% less likely to relapse compared with the midazolam group (hazard ratio, 0.47; 95% CI, 0.24-0.92; =.03). In addition, craving scores were 58.1% lower in the ketamine group than in the midazolam group (=.01). At the six-month telephone follow-up interview, 12 patients (44%) in the ketamine group reported abstinence compared with none in the midazolam group. The percentage of abstinent individuals was significantly associated with treatment group (<.001). 

A single ketamine infusion was associated with significantly improved treatment outcomes compared with midazolam in a cohort of adults with cocaine dependence. Further research in a larger sample is needed to confirm these findings.

Reference

Dakwar E, Nunes EV, Hart CL, et al. A single ketamine infusion combined with mindfulness-based behavioral modification to treat cocaine dependence: a randomized clinical trial [published online June 24, 2019]. Am J Psychiatry. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18101123



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Ketamine could be first of new generation of rapid acting antidepressants, say experts

Ketamine is the first truly new pharmacological approach to treating depression in the past 50 years and could herald a new generation of rapid acting antidepressants, researchers have predicted.

“We haven’t had anything really new for about 50 or 60 years,” said Allan Young, professor of mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College, London, at a briefing on 12 July at London’s Science Media Centre.

Most of the new launches have been “tinkering with drugs which were really discovered in the ’50s and ’60s,” he explained. “Even the famous Prozac, which came in in the late ’80s, is really just a refinement of the tricyclic antidepressants that came in the ’50s. People say we are still in the age of steam, and we need to go to the next technological advance.”

Slow onset

In the past few years the focus has fallen on ketamine, which is used for pain relief and anaesthesia but is better known for being a horse sedative and a “club drug” that can induce hallucinations and calmness. It has been found to have rapid antidepressant effects and to be effective in many patients with treatment resistant depression.

US clinics increasingly offer IV infusions of ketamine off label, and in March esketamine, a nasal ketamine based drug, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treatment resistant depression,1 at a cost of £32 400 (€36 060; $40 615) per patient per year.

Carlos Zarate, chief of the Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch at the US National Institute of Mental Health, who has been a key figure in the discovery and evaluation of ketamine as an antidepressant, said that one of the main problems with current antidepressants was their speed of onset in terms of antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects.

He explained that it took 10-14 weeks to see significant improvement with monoaminergic based antidepressants. “In my mind that is too slow,” he said. “We are focusing on treatments that can produce results within hours. That is where we are heading with the next generation of antidepressant, and ketamine is now the prototype for future generation antidepressants which will have rapid, robust antidepressant effects—rapid within a few hours.”

Efficacy and tolerability

Zarate said that, besides correcting chemical imbalances of serotonin and norepinephrine, the new generation of ketamine based antidepressants had other effects such as enhancing plasticity and restoring the synapses and dendrite circuits that shrivel in depression.

When ketamine is given to patients it binds to the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, causing a series of transient side effects including decreased awareness of the environment, vivid dreams, and problems in communicating. But the half life of ketamine is only two to three hours, so these side effects quickly subside, whereas the therapeutic effects of the drug last seven days or longer.

Zarate’s team is now focusing on the 24 metabolites of ketamine to hone the drug’s efficacy and tolerability. One of these, hydroxynorketamine, has already been shown to have similar antidepressive effects to ketamine in animals, without the side effects, and it is due to be tested in patients this autumn.

“Ketamine may actually be a prodrug for hydroxynorketamine,” said Zarate.

High cost

A few dozen patients with treatment resistant depression have been treated with ketamine in UK trials, and the European Medicines Agency and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency are due to reach a decision on authorising esketamine for marketing in October. If the drug is approved private clinics will be able to provide it. But it would be unlikely to be available through the NHS until at least 2020, if at all, as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence would need to deem it cost effective.

Rupert McShane, consultant psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Oxford, said that, as well as the likely high cost of esketamine, patients treated with it must be observed in a clinic for two hours after each administration. This would require substantial clinical time, as esketamine is given twice a week for the first month, once a week for the second month, and once a week or once a fortnight from then on.

McShane also recommended that, if approved, a multidrug registry should be set up to monitor the long term safety and effectiveness of ketamine based drugs. Patients would be asked to input their use of any prescribed ketamine, esketamine, or any other future ketamine based product, as well as any self medication with illicit ketamine.

References


    1. Silberner J
    . Ketamine should be available for treatment resistant depression, says FDA panel. BMJ2019;364:l858.doi:10.1136/bmj.l858 pmid:30796014FREE Full TextGoogle Scholar



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Call NOVA Health Recovery at 703-844-0184 for a free consultation for a Ketamine infusion. No referral needed. We offer intranasal Ketamine follow up therapy as well. Alexandria, Va 22306.

Call NOVA Health Recovery at 703-844-0184 for a free consultation for a Ketamine infusion. No referral needed. We offer intranasal Ketamine follow up therapy as well. Alexandria, Va 22306.

From Popular Anesthetic to Antidepressant, Ketamine Isn’t the Drug You Think It Is

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.



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Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate

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Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate

A version of the club drug is expected to be approved for depression in March. Researchers think it could help treat suicidal thinking.

Joe Wright has no doubt that ketamine saved his life. A 34-year-old high school teacher who writes poetry every day on a typewriter, Wright was plagued by suicidal impulses for years. The thoughts started coming on when he was a high schooler himself, on Staten Island, N.Y., and intensified during his first year of college. “It was an internal monologue, emphatic on how pointless it is to exist,” he says. “It’s like being ambushed by your own brain.”

He first tried to kill himself by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills the summer after his sophomore year. Years of treatment with Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and other antidepressants followed, but the desire for an end was never fully resolved. He started cutting himself on his arms and legs with a pencil-sharpener blade. Sometimes he’d burn himself with cigarettes. He remembers few details about his second and third suicide attempts. They were halfhearted; he drank himself into a stupor and once added Xanax into the mix.

Wright decided to try again in 2016, this time using a cocktail of drugs he’d ground into a powder. As he tells the story now, he was preparing to mix the powder into water and drink it when his dog jumped onto his lap. Suddenly he had a moment of clarity that shocked him into action. He started doing research and came upon a Columbia University study of a pharmaceutical treatment for severe depression and suicidality. It involved an infusion of ketamine, a decades-old anesthetic that’s also an infamous party drug. He immediately volunteered.

His first—and only—ketamine infusion made him feel dreamlike, goofy, and euphoric. He almost immediately started feeling more hopeful about life. He was more receptive to therapy. Less than a year later, he married. Today he says his dark moods are remote and manageable. Suicidal thoughts are largely gone. “If they had told me how much it would affect me, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Wright says. “It is unconscionable that it is not already approved for suicidal patients.”

The reasons it isn’t aren’t strictly medical. Over the past three decades, pharmaceutical companies have conducted hundreds of trials for at least 10 antidepressants to treat severe PMS, social anxiety disorder, and any number of conditions. What they’ve almost never done is test their drugs on the sickest people, those on the verge of suicide. There are ethical considerations: Doctors don’t want to give a placebo to a person who’s about to kill himself. And reputational concerns: A suicide in a drug trial could hurt a medication’s sales prospects.

The risk-benefit calculation has changed amid the suicide epidemic in the U.S. From 1999 to 2016, the rate of suicides increased by 30 percent. It’s now the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 34-year-olds, behind accidents. (Globally the opposite is true: Suicide is decreasing.) Growing economic disparity, returning veterans traumatized by war, the opioid crisis, easy access to guns—these have all been cited as reasons for the rise in America. There’s been no breakthrough in easing any of these circumstances.

But there is, finally, a serious quest for a suicide cure. Ketamine is at the center, and crucially the pharmaceutical industry now sees a path. The first ketamine-based drug, from Johnson & Johnson, could be approved for treatment-resistant depression by March and suicidal thinking within two years. Allergan Plc is not far behind in developing its own fast-acting antidepressant that could help suicidal patients. How this happened is one of the most hopeful tales of scientific research in recent memory.

relates to Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate
Dennis Charney at Mount Sinai.PHOTOGRAPHER: MAX AGUILERA-HELLWEG FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Dennis Charney, dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, works from an office filled with family pictures, diplomas, and awards from a long career in research. One thing on the wall is different from the rest: a patent for the use of a nasal-spray form of ketamine as a treatment for suicidal patients. The story of the drug is in some ways the story of Charney’s career.

In the 1990s he was a psychiatry professor, mentoring then associate professor John Krystal at Yale and trying to figure out how a deficit of serotonin played into depression. Back then, depression research was all about serotonin. The 1987 approval of Prozac, the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, ushered in an era of what people in the industry call me-too drug development, research that seeks to improve on existing medicines rather than exploring new approaches. Within this narrow range, pharmaceutical companies churned out blockbuster after blockbuster. One in eight Americans age 12 and older reported using antidepressants within the past month, according to a survey conducted from 2011 to 2014 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Charney was a depression guy; Krystal was interested in schizophrenia. Their curiosity led them to the same place: the glutamate system, what Krystal calls the “main information highway of the higher brain.” (Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, which helps brain cells communicate. It’s considered crucial in learning and memory formation.) They had already used ketamine to temporarily produce schizophrenia-like symptoms, to better understand glutamate’s role in that condition. In the mid-1990s they decided to conduct a single-dose study of ketamine on nine patients (two ultimately dropped out) at the Yale-affiliated VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven to see how depressed people would react to the drug.

“If we had done the typical thing … we would have completely missed the antidepressant effect”

Outside the field of anesthesiology, ketamine is known, if it’s known at all, for its abuse potential. Street users sometimes take doses large enough to enter what’s known as a “K hole,” a state in which they’re unable to interact with the world around them. Over the course of a day, those recreational doses can be as much as 100 times greater than the tiny amount Charney and Krystal were planning to give to patients. Nonetheless, they decided to monitor patients for 72 hours—well beyond the two hours that ketamine produces obvious behavioral effects—just to be careful not to miss any negative effects that might crop up. “If we had done the typical thing that we do with these drug tests,” Krystal says, “we would have completely missed the antidepressant effect of ketamine.”

Checking on patients four hours after the drug had been administered, the researchers saw something unexpected. “To our surprise,” Charney says, “the patients started saying they were better, they were better in a few hours.” This was unheard of. Antidepressants are known for taking weeks or months to work, and about a third of patients aren’t sufficiently helped by the drugs. “We were shocked,” says Krystal, who now chairs the Yale psychiatry department. “We didn’t submit the results for publication for several years.”

When Charney and Krystal did publish their findings, in 2000, they attracted almost no notice. Perhaps that was because the trial was so small and the results were almost too good to be true. Or maybe it was ketamine’s reputation as an illicit drug. Or the side effects, which have always been problematic: Ketamine can cause patients to disassociate, meaning they enter a state in which they feel as if their mind and body aren’t connected.

But probably none of these factors mattered as much as the bald economic reality. The pharmaceutical industry is not in the business of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to do large-scale studies of an old, cheap drug like ketamine. Originally developed as a safer alternative to the anesthetic phencyclidine, better known as PCP or angel dust, ketamine has been approved since 1970. There’s rarely profit in developing a medication that’s been off patent a long time, even if scientists find an entirely new use for it.

Somehow, even with all of this baggage, research into ketamine inched forward. The small study that almost wasn’t published has now been cited more than 2,000 times.

relates to Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate
John Mann in his office at Columbia’s New York State Psychiatric Institute. 

Suicide is described in medicine as resulting from a range of mental disorders and hardships—a tragedy with many possible roots. Conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are known risk factors. Childhood trauma or abuse may also be a contributor, and there may be genetic risk factors as well.

From these facts, John Mann, an Australian-born psychiatrist with a doctorate in neurochemistry, made a leap. If suicide has many causes, he hypothesized, then all suicidal brains might have certain characteristics in common. He’s since done some of the most high-profile work to illuminate what researchers call the biology of suicide. The phrase itself represents a bold idea—that there’s an underlying physiological susceptibility to suicide, apart from depression or another psychiatric disorder.

Mann moved to New York in 1978, and in 1982, at Cornell University, he started collecting the brains of people who’d killed themselves. He recruited Victoria Arango, now a leading expert in the field of suicide biology. The practice of studying postmortem brain tissue had largely fallen out of favor, and Mann wanted to reboot it. “He was very proud to take me to the freezer,” Arango says of the day Mann introduced her to the brain collection, which then numbered about 15. “I said, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ ”

relates to Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate
Some of Mann’s brain collection. 

They took the work, and the brains, first to the University of Pittsburgh, and then, in 1994, to Columbia. They’ve now amassed a collection of some 1,000 human brains—some from suicide victims, the others, control brains—filed neatly in freezers kept at –112F. The small Balkan country of Macedonia contributes the newest brains, thanks to a Columbia faculty member from there who helped arrange it. The Macedonian brains are frozen immediately after being removed and flown in trunks, chaperoned, some 4,700 miles to end up in shoe-box-size, QR-coded black boxes. Inside are dissected sections of pink tissue in plastic bags notated with markers: right side, left side, date of collection.

In the early 1990s, Mann and Arango discovered that depressed patients who killed themselves have subtle alterations in serotonin in certain regions of the brain. Mann remembers sitting with Arango and neurophysiologist Mark Underwood, her husband and longtime research partner, and analyzing the parts of the brain affected by the deficit. They struggled to make sense of it, until it dawned on them that these were the same brain regions described in a famous psychiatric case study. In 1848, Phineas Gage, an American railroad worker, was impaled through the skull by a 43-inch-long tamping iron when the explosives he was working with went off prematurely. He survived, but his personality was permanently altered. In a paper titled “Recovery From the Passage of an Iron Bar Through the Head,” his doctor wrote that Gage’s “animal propensities” had emerged and described him as using the “grossest profanity.” Modern research has shown that the tamping iron destroyed key areas of the brain involved in inhibition—the same areas that were altered in the depressed patients who’d committed suicide. For the group, this was a clue that the differences in the brain of suicidal patients were anatomically important.

relates to Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate
Columbia’s Victoria Arango. 

“Most people inhibit suicide. They find a reason not to do it,” Underwood says. Thanks to subtle changes in the part of the brain that might normally control inhibition and top-down control, people who kill themselves “don’t find a reason not to do it,” he says.

About eight years ago, Mann saw ketamine research taking off in other corners of the scientific world and added the drug to his own work. In one trial, his group found that ketamine treatment could ease suicidal thoughts in 24 hours more effectively than a control drug. Crucially, they found that the antisuicidal effects of ketamine were to some extent independent of the antidepressant effect of the drug, which helped support their thesis that suicidal impulses aren’t necessarily just a byproduct of depression. It was this study, led by Michael Grunebaum, a colleague of Mann’s, that made a believer of Joe Wright.

“It’s like you have 50 pounds on your shoulders, and the ketamine takes 40 pounds off”

In 2000, the National Institutes of Health hired Charney to run both mood disorder and experimental drug research. It was the perfect place for him to forge ahead with ketamine. There he did the work to replicate what he and his colleagues at Yale had discovered. In a study published in 2006, led by researcher Carlos Zarate Jr., who now oversees NIH studies of ketamine and suicidality, an NIH team found that patients had “robust and rapid antidepressant effects” from a single dose of the drug within two hours. “We could not believe it. In the first few subjects we were like, ‘Oh, you can always find one patient or two who gets better,’ ” Zarate recalls.

In a 2009 study done at Mount Sinai, patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression showed rapid improvement in suicidal thinking within 24 hours. The next year, Zarate’s group demonstrated antisuicidal effects within 40 minutes. “That you could replicate the findings, the rapid findings, was quite eerie,” Zarate says.

Finally ketamine crossed back into commercial drug development. In 2009, Johnson & Johnson lured away Husseini Manji, a prominent NIH researcher who’d worked on the drug, to run its neuroscience division. J&J didn’t hire him explicitly to develop ketamine into a new pharmaceutical, but a few years into his tenure, Manji decided to look into it. This time it would come in a nasal-spray form of esketamine, a close chemical cousin. That would allow for patent protection. Further, the nasal spray removes some of the challenges that an IV form of the drug would present. Psychiatrists, for one thing, aren’t typically equipped to administer IV drugs in their offices.

While these wheels were slowly turning, some doctors—mostly psychiatrists and anesthesiologists—took action. Around 2012 they started opening ketamine clinics. Dozens have now popped up in major metropolitan areas. Insurance typically won’t touch it, but at these centers people can pay about $500 for an infusion of the drug. It was at one time a cultural phenomenon—a 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek story called it “the club drug cure.” Since then, the sense of novelty has dissipated. In September the American Society of Ketamine Physicians convened its first medical meeting about the unconventional use of the drug.

“You are literally saving lives,” Steven Mandel, an anesthesiologist-turned-ketamine provider, told a room of about 100 people, mostly doctors and nurse practitioners, who gathered in Austin to hear him and other early adopters talk about how they use the drug. Sporadic cheers interrupted the speakers as they presented anecdotes about its effectiveness.

There were also issues to address. A consensus statementin JAMA Psychiatry published in 2017 said there was an “urgent need for some guidance” on ketamine use. The authors were particularly concerned with the lack of data about the safety of prolonged use of the drug in people with mood disorders, citing “major gaps” in the medical community’s knowledge about its long-term impact.

The context for the off-label use of ketamine is a shrinking landscape for psychiatry treatment. An effort to deinstitutionalize the U.S. mental health system, which took hold in the 1960s, has almost resulted in the disappearance of psychiatric hospitals and even psychiatric beds within general hospitals. There were 37,679 psychiatric beds in state hospitals in 2016, down from 558,922 in 1955, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. Today a person is often discharged from a hospital within days of a suicide attempt, setting up a risky situation in which someone who may not have fully recovered ends up at home with a bunch of antidepressants that could take weeks to lift his mood, if they work at all.

A ketamine clinic can be the way out of this scenario—for people with access and means. For Dana Manning, a 53-year-old Maine resident who suffers from bipolar disorder, $500 is out of reach. “I want to die every day,” she says.

After trying to end her life in 2003 by overdosing on a cocktail of drugs including Xanax and Percocet, Manning tried virtually every drug approved for bipolar disorder. None stopped the mood swings. In 2010 the depression came back so intensely that she could barely get out of bed and had to quit her job as a medical records specialist. Electroconvulsive therapy, the last-ditch treatment for depressed patients who don’t respond to drugs, didn’t help.

Her psychiatrist went deep into the medical literature to find options and finally suggested ketamine. He was even able to get the state Medicaid program to cover it, she says. She received a total of four weekly infusions before she moved to Pennsylvania, where there were more family members nearby to care for her.

The first several weeks following her ketamine regimen were “the only time I can say I have felt normal” in 15 years, she says. “It’s like you have 50 pounds on your shoulders, and the ketamine takes 40 pounds off.”

She’s now back in Maine, and the depression has returned. Her current Medicare insurance won’t cover ketamine. She lives on $1,300 a month in disability income. “Knowing it is there and I can’t have it is beyond frustrating,” she says.

relates to Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate
Mark Underwood at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. 

Ketamine is considered a “dirty” drug by scientists—it affects so many pathways and systems in the brain at the same time that it’s hard to single out the exact reason it works in the patients it does help. That’s one reason researchers continue to look for better versions of the drug. Another, of course, is that new versions are patentable. Should Johnson & Johnson’s esketamine hit the market, the ketamine pioneers and their research institutions stand to benefit. Yale’s Krystal, NIH’s Zarate, and Sinai’s Charney, all of whom are on the patent on Charney’s wall, will collect royalties based on the drug’s sales. J&J hasn’t said anything about potential pricing, but there’s every reason to believe the biggest breakthrough in depression treatment since Prozac will be expensive.

The company’s initial esketamine study in suicidal patients involved 68 people at high risk. To avoid concerns about using placebos on actively suicidal subjects, everyone received antidepressants and other standard treatments. About 40 percent of those who received esketamine were deemed no longer at risk of killing themselves within 24 hours. Two much larger trials are under way.

When Johnson & Johnson unveiled data from its esketamine study in treatment-resistant depression at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in May, the presentation was jammed. Esketamine could become the first-ever rapid-acting antidepressant, and physicians and investors are clamoring for any information about how it works. The results in suicidal patients should come later this year and could pave the way for a Food and Drug Administration filing for use in suicidal depressed patients in 2020. Allergan expects to have results from its suicide study next year, too.

“The truth is, what everybody cares about is, do they decrease suicide attempts?” says Gregory Simon, a psychiatrist and mental health researcher at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. “That is an incredibly important question that we hope to be able to answer, and we are planning for when these treatments become available.”

Exactly how ketamine and its cousin esketamine work is still the subject of intense debate. In essence, the drugs appear to provide a quick molecular reset button for brains impaired by stress or depression. Both ketamine and esketamine release a burst of glutamate. This, in turn, may trigger the growth of synapses, or neural connections, in brain areas that may play a role in mood and the ability to feel pleasure. It’s possible the drug works to prevent suicide by boosting those circuits while also reestablishing some of the inhibition needed to prevent a person from killing himself. “We certainly think that esketamine is working exactly on the circuitry of depression,” Manji says. “Are we homing in exactly on where suicidal ideation resides?” His former colleagues at NIH are trying to find that spot in the brain as well. Using polysomnography—sleep tests in which patients have nodes connected to various parts of their head to monitor brain activity—as well as MRIs and positron emission tomography, or PET scans, researchers can see how a patient’s brain responds to ketamine, to better understand exactly what it’s doing to quash suicidal thinking.

Concerns about the side effects of ketamine-style drugs linger. Some patients taking esketamine have reported experiencing disassociation symptoms. Johnson & Johnson calls the effects manageable and says they cropped up within an hour of the treatment, a period in which a person on the drug would likely be kept in the doctor’s office for monitoring. Some patients also experienced modest spikes in blood pressure within the same timeframe.

Nasal-spray dosing brings other issues. The Black Dog Institute in Australia and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, which teamed up to study a nasal-spray form of ketamine, published their findings last March in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The researchers found that absorption rates were variable among patients. J&J says its own studies with esketamine contradict these findings.

But in the wake of the opioid crisis, perhaps the biggest worry is that loosening the reins too much on the use of ketamine and similar drugs could lead to a new abuse crisis. That’s why Wall Street analysts are particularly excited by Allergan’s rapid-acting antidepressant, rapastinel, which is about a year behind esketamine in testing. Researchers say it likely acts on the same target in the brain as ketamine, the NMDA receptor, but in a more subtle way that may avoid the disassociation side effects and abuse potential. Studies in lab animals show the drug doesn’t lead creatures to seek more of it, as they sometimes do with ketamine, says Allergan Vice President Armin Szegedi. Allergan’s medicine is an IV drug, but the company is developing an oral drug.

For its suicide study, Allergan is working hard to enroll veterans, one of the populations most affected by the recent spike in suicides, and has included several U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers as sites in the trial. More than 6,000 veterans died by suicide each year from 2008 to 2016, a rate that’s 50 percent higher than in the general population even after adjusting for demographics, according to VA data.

“How the brain mediates what makes us who we are is still a mystery, and maybe we will never fully understand it,” Szegedi says. “What really changed the landscape here is you had clinical data showing ‘This really does the trick.’ Once you find something in the darkness, you really have to figure out: Can you do something better, faster, safer?”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1 (800) 273 8255.

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William Jamieson is only 23, but he’s already spent almost one-third of his life battling severe depression.

Once a top student and athlete with a large group of friends, the young Ottawa man fell into a depression at age 16 that he couldn’t shake.

“It got pretty bleak,” he says. “In terms of energy, I just couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t eat. I didn’t have the energy to eat. I was wasting away.”

“I kind of kept myself in the dark. That goes to how you see the world,” he adds.

He tried at least 10 medications and received electric shock therapy — but nothing worked.

Watching his son sink further into his depression left William’s father Charles desperate to help.

“There was nothing more they (the doctors) could do, and as a parent, that is not what you want to hear, because the depths of William’s depression were as dark and black as you can imagine,” Charles says.

Fearing for his son’s life, the elder Jamieson went online.

“I typed in Google: ‘breakthrough depression treatments,’ and ‘ketamine’ came up,” he says.

Though probably best known as the party drug “Special K,” ketamine has been used as an anesthetic and painkiller for decades. But in recent years, it’s been explored as a treatment for depression.

Researchers say the drug can lift depression and suicidal thoughts in patients with even one treatment.

Doctors at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre have been using intravenous ketamine on patients with treatment-resistant depression and say they are seeing promising results.

Ketamine isn’t approved by U.S. regulators to treat depression, but hundreds of private health clinics have been offering it off-label. Jamieson now travels from his home in Ottawa to New York City every six weeks to get infusion from anesthesiologist Dr. Glen Brooks.

The darkness began to lift two days after the first treatment, William says.

“It feels like there is a loosening of the fist that is inside of your head.”

His father Charles grows emotional thinking about that weekend.

“I say, ‘Will, how are you feeling?’ He says, ‘Dad, it is gone. The depression is gone. The colours are brighter.’ I will never forget those words. ‘The colour is brighter. The fog is gone,’” he says.

Dr. Brooks has used ketamine for 35 years to treat neuropathic pain. After reading research on using of ketamine for depression, he began to offer the drug to patients with long histories of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mood disorders, charging up to US$400 per infusion.

Many of his patients have tried multiple medications and electroshock therapy and have not responded.

“So this is generally more of a last stop than a first stop,” he explains.

He says the improvements are often rapid and dramatic.

“What patients report is a sense of calmness and wellbeing that comes over them,” he explains.

Dr. Brooks believes that for suicidal patients, “ketamine saves lives every day.”

“I don’t think anything is as effective as ketamine has been,” he says.

In Canada, many psychiatrists are excited to better understand how ketamine works in the brain, but others are urging patience until more is known about the drug’s possible side-effects, including elevated blood pressure, blurred vision, and bladder inflammation.

“We don’t know who is more prone to the side effects or indeed, the long-term consequences of the side effects,” says Dr. Sidney Kennedy, the Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide and Depression Studies at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

But Dr. Brooks says patients should be able to access a drug that could save their lives.

“In my experience of treating over 1,500 patients, I see no reason for any patient to wait, especially if they are critically ill with their mood disorder,” he says.

Charles Jamieson thinks ketamine should be more widely available in medically supervised settings.  Until it is, he will pay for his son to get the drug in the U.S.

“I have got my son back and I know he will have the life that he wants to make. He has an opportunity that he would not have had without ketamine,” he says. “Without ketamine, it would have been a terrible, different story.”

 

The Fog Has Lifted <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<LINK TO STORY

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Reasons to treat depression rapidly – Depression causes rapid aging> Consider using a rapid – acting antidepressant!

Depression ‘makes us biologically older’  BBC Article

Major depressive disorder and accelerated cellular aging

Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) have an increased onset risk of aging-related somatic diseases such as heart disease,
diabetes, obesity and cancer. This suggests mechanisms of accelerated biological aging among the depressed, which can be
indicated by a shorter length of telomeres. We examine whether MDD is associated with accelerated biological aging, and whether
depression characteristics such as severity, duration, and psychoactive medication do further impact on biological aging. Data are
from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety, including 1095 current MDD patients, 802 remitted MDD patients and 510
control subjects. Telomere length (TL) was assessed as the telomere sequence copy number (T) compared to a single-copy gene
copy number (S) using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. This resulted in a T/S ratio and was converted to base pairs (bp).
MDD diagnosis and MDD characteristics were determined by self-report questionnaires and structured psychiatric interviews.
Compared with control subjects (mean bp = 5541), sociodemographic-adjusted TL was shorter among remitted MDD patients
(mean bp = 5459; P = 0.014) and current MDD patients (mean bp = 5461; P = 0.012). Adjustment for health and lifestyle variables did
not reduce the associations. Within the current MDD patients, separate analyses showed that both higher depression severity
(P<0.01) and longer symptom duration in the past 4 years (P = 0.01) were associated with shorter TL. Our results demonstrate that
depressed patients show accelerated cellular aging according to a ‘dose–response’ gradient: those with the most severe and
chronic MDD showed the shortest TL. We also confirmed the imprint of past exposure to depression, as those with remitted MDD
had shorter TL than controls

In this large cohort study we demonstrated that currently
depressed persons had shorter TL than never-depressed controls.
Based on an estimated mean telomere shortening rate of 14–20
bp per year as found in this and other studies,20,23,26 the
differences observed indicate 4–6 years of accelerated aging for
the current MDD sample as compared to controls. We also showed
evidence for the imprint of past exposure to depression since
those with remitted MDD also had shorter TL than control
subjects. These observed associations remained significant after
controlling for lifestyle and somatic health variables, suggesting that the shortened telomeres were not simply due to unhealthylifestyle or poorer somatic health among depressed persons.
Finally, the association between MDD and TL showed a ‘dose–
response’ gradient, since the most severely and chronically
depressed patients had the shortest telomeres.

MDD is thus associated with shortened TL, which resembles
accelerated biological aging. The disorder has previously also been
associated with dysregulations of the hypothalamus–pituitary–
adrenal (HPA) axis,43,45 the immune system,46,47 the autonomic
nervous system (ANS)48,49 and increased oxidative stress.50
Shortened telomeres, in turn, are suggested to be a consequence
or a concomitant of these dysregulated biological stress systems.
In line with this, several in vitro and in vivo studies found increased
cortisol,51 oxidative stress52 and pro-inflammatory cytokines53
to be associated with shorter TL. Dysregulations of these stress systems could contribute to telomere shortening in MDD patients.9,12
However, the exact biological mechanisms that mediate the relation
between depression and telomere shortening, as well as the
direction of the link, remain to be further explored.

Oxidative stress shortens telomeres

Elevated DNA Oxidation and DNA Repair Enzyme Expression in Brain White Matter in Major Depressive Disorder.

The Role of Oxidative Stress in Depressive Disorders

Abstract:

Studies of the World Health Organization suggest that in the year 2020, depressive disorder will be the illness with the highest
burden of disease. Especially unipolar depression is the psychiatric disorder with the highest prevalence and incidence, it is cost-intensive and has a relatively high morbidity. Lately, the biological process involved in the aetiology of depression has been the focus of research.
Since its emergence, the monoamine hypothesis has been adjusted and extended considerably. An increasing body of evidence points to
alterations not only in brain function, but also in neuronal plasticity. The clinical presentations demonstrate these dysfunctions by accompanying cognitive symptoms such as problems with memory and concentration. Modern imaging techniques show volume reduction of the hippocampus and the frontal cortex. These findings are in line with post-mortem studies of patients with depressive disorder and they point to a significant decrease of neuronal and glial cells in cortico-limbic regions which can be seen as a consequence of alterations in
neuronal plasticity in this disorder. This could be triggered by an increase of free radicals which in turn eventually leads to cell death and consequently atrophy of vulnerable neuronal and glial cell population in these regions. Therefore, research on increased oxidative stress in unipolar depressive disorder, mediated by elevated concentrations of free radicals, has been undertaken. This review gives a comprehensive overview over the current literature discussing the involvement of oxidative stress and free radicals in depression.

Membrane damage in blood of patients with depression has
been shown by elevated of omega 3- fatty-acids [45] and by increased
lipid peroxidation products in patients with DD [42, 45,
[46, 47]. Furthermore, DNA-strand brakes have been reported in
the blood of these patients [48]. DD has been linked to increased
serum levels of malondialdehyde (MDA), a breakdown product of
oxidized apolipoprotein B-containing lipoproteins, and thus a
marker of the rate of peroxide breakdown [49, 50].

In patients with DD (Depressive Disorders), elevated levels of MDA adversely affect
the efficiency of visual-spatial and auditory-verbal working memory,
short-term declarative memory and delayed recall declarative
memory [51]. Higher concentration of plasma MDA in patients
with recurrent depression is associated with the severity of depressive
symptoms, both at the beginning of antidepressant pharmacotherapy,
and after 8 weeks of treatment. Statistically significant
differences were found in the intensity of depressive symptoms,
measured on therapy onset versus the examination results after
8 weeks of treatment [51]. Although this is used as a marker of lipid peroxidation, it is considered to be less stable than 8-iso-PGF2a, and more susceptible to confounding factors such as antioxidants from diet [52]. Therefore, the best way to investigate oxidative disruptions to lipids in humans is via assessing levels of F2-
isoprostanes [52-54]. These are stable compounds produced in the
process of lipid peroxidation [52, 54]. 8-iso-PGF2a are specific F2-
isoprostane molecules produced during the peroxidation of arachnidonic acid. However, the mean serum level of 8-iso-PGF2a was shown to be significantly higher in a group of patients with DD,
controlling for lifestyle variables such as body mass index, alcohol
consumption, and physical activity [55, 56]. Cerebral membrane
abnormalities and altered membrane phospholipids have been suggested by an increased choline-containing compound seen in the
putamen of patients with DD [57] which has been interpreted as a
result of increased oxidative stress in patients with DD.

A Meta-Analysis of Oxidative Stress Markers in Depression

Results
115 articles met the inclusion criteria. Lower TAC was noted in acute episodes (AEs) of depressed patients (p<0.05). Antioxidants, including serum paraoxonase, uric acid, albumin,
high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and zinc levels were lower than controls (p<0.05); the serum uric acid, albumin and vitamin C levels were increased after antidepressant therapy
(p<0.05). Oxidative damage products, including red blood cell (RBC) malondialdehyde (MDA), serum MDA and 8-F2-isoprostanes levels were higher than controls (p<0.05). After
antidepressant medication, RBC and serum MDA levels were decreased (p<0.05). Moreover, serum peroxide in free radicals levels were higher than controls (p<0.05). There were
no difference

Conclusion
This meta-analysis supports the facts that the serum TAC, paraoxonase and antioxidant levels are lower, and the serum free radical and oxidative damage product levels are higher
than controls in depressed patients. Meanwhile, the antioxidant levels are increased and the oxidative damage product levels are decreased after antidepressant medication. The
pathophysiological relationships between oxidative stress and depression, and the potential benefits of antioxidant supplementation deserve further research.

Some studies have demonstrated that depressed patients’ oxidative product levels in their peripheral blood [3, 4], red blood cells (RBC) [4], mononuclear cells [5], urine [6], cerebrospinal
fluid [7] and postmortem brains [8] were abnormal. Antioxidant system disturbance in peripheral blood has also been reported [9]. Autoimmune responses against neoepitopes
induced by oxidative damage of fatty acid and protein membranes have been reported [10, 11].
Lower glutathione (GSH) levels [12] and a negative relationship between anhedonia severity
and occipital GSH levels [13] were found through magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).

Oxidative stress is defined as a persistent imbalance between oxidation and anti-oxidation, which leads to the damage of cellular macromolecules [14, 15]. The free radicals consist of reactive
oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). The main ROS includes superoxide anion, hydroxy radical and hydrogen peroxide, and the RNS consists of nitric oxide
(NO), nitrogen dioxide and peroxynitrite. Nitrite is often used as a marker of NO activity. Interestingly, the brain appears to be more susceptible to the ROS/RNS because of the high
content of unsaturated fatty acids, high oxygen consumption per unit weight, high content of key ingredients of lipid peroxidation (LP) and scarcity of antioxidant defence systems [16].
The oxidative products include products of oxidative damage of LP, protein and DNA in depression. As a product of LP, abnormal malondialdehyde (MDA) levels in depression have
been reported [17]. 8-F2-isoprostane (8-iso-PGF2α) is another product of LP [18] that is considered
to be a marker of LP because of its chemical stability [19]. The protein carbonyl (PC), 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) and 8-oxo-7, 8-dihydroguanosine (8-oxoGuo) are
the markers of protein, DNA and RNA oxidative damage, respectively [3, 20, 21]. The oxidative damage to cellular macromolecules changes the structure of original epitopes, which leads to the generation of new epitopes modified (neoepitopes). The antibodies against oxidative neoepitopes
in depression have been found [10, 11, 22–24]. On the other hand, the antioxidant defence systems can be divided into enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants. The nonenzymatic
antioxidants include vitamins C and E, albumin, uric acid, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), GSH, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), ceruloplasmin, zinc, selenium, and so on.
The enzymatic antioxidants include superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GPX), catalase (CAT), glutathione reductase (GR), paraoxonase 1 (PON1), and so on.

Discussion
The present findings support oxidative stress may be disordered in depressed patients, which is demonstrated by abnormal oxidative stress marker levels. In this meta-analysis, at first we
found in depressed patients: 1) the serum TAC, PON, uric acid, albumin, HDL-C and zinc levels were lower than controls; 2) the serum peroxide, MDA, 8-iso-PGF2α and RBC MDA levels
were higher than controls. To explore the effect of the antidepressant therapy to oxidative stress
markers, we reviewed the studies which had changes. And it came to the conclusions: 1) the serum uric acid, albumin, and vitamin C levels were increased; 2) the serum nitrite, RBC and
serum MDA levels were decreased.

The serum antioxidant levels are significantly lower in depression in our study and previous
reports, including PON, albumin, zinc, uric acid HDL-C, CoQ10 [146] and GSH [4, 38].
Meanwhile, the oxidative damage product levels are significantly higher. The body couldn’t
scavenge the excess free radicals (peroxide), leading to damages of main parts of cellular macromolecules
such as fatty acids, protein, DNA, RNA and mitochondria. The longitudinal antidepressant
therapy can reverse these abnormal oxidative stress parameters. It has proved
these phenomena occur in depression, such as increased levels of MDA, 8-iso-PGF2α, 8-oxoGuo
and 8-OHdG [3, 21]. Oxidative stress plays a crucial role in the pathophysiology of
depression. Some genes may be a potential factor. Lawlor et al (2007) reported the R allele of
PON1Q192R was associated with depression [147]. In addition, poor appetite, psychological
stressors, obesity, metabolic syndrome, sleep disorders, cigarette smoking and unhealthy lifestyle
may also contribute to it [148]. Furthermore, oxidative stress activates the immuneinflammatory
pathways [148]. But some studies supported decrease in albumin, zinc and
HDL-C levels was probably related to increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (such as
interleukin-1 (IL-1) and IL-6) [59, 70–72, 117] during an acute phase response, which illustrated the activated immune-inflammatory pathways also activates the oxidative stress. These two mechanisms influence each other. On the other hand, the oxidative damage to cellular macromolecules changes the structure of original epitopes, which leads to generation of newepitopes modified (neoepitopes). Oxidative neoepitopes reported up to now include the conjugated oleic and azelaic acid, MDA, phosphatidyl inositol (Pi), NO-modified adducts and oxidized low density lipoprotein (oxLDL) [11, 22–24]. Maes et al reported the levels of serum IgG antibody against the oxLDL and IgM antibodies against the conjugated oleic and azelaic acid, MDA, Pi and NO-modified adducts were increased in depression [11, 22–24]. Depleted antioxidant defence in depression suggests that antioxidant supplements may be useful in clinical management. Preliminary evidence has indicated that patients treated with CoQ10 showed improvement in depressive symptoms and decrease in hippocampal oxidative DNA damage [149]. In our analyses, vitamin C and E levels did not differ between depressed patients and controls, but many studies have reported that vitamin C and E supplements could improve depressive moods [150, 151].

Malondialdehyde plasma concentration correlates with declarative and working memory in patients with recurrent depressive disorder

Abstract

Oxidative stress has been implicated in the cognitive decline, especially in memory impairment. The purpose of this study was to determine the concentration of malondialdehyde (MDA) in patients with recurrent depressive disorders (rDD) and to define relationship between plasma levels of MDA and the cognitive performance. The study comprised 46 patients meeting criteria for rDD. Cognitive function assessment was based on: The Trail Making Test , The Stroop Test, Verbal Fluency Test and Auditory-Verbal Learning Test. The severity of depression symptoms was assessed using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). Statistically significant differences were found in the intensity of depression symptoms, measured by the HDRS on therapy onset versus the examination results after 8 weeks of treatment (P < 0.001). Considering the 8-week pharmacotherapy period, rDD patients presented better outcomes in cognitive function tests. There was no statistically significant correlation between plasma MDA levels, and the age, disease duration, number of previous depressive episodes and the results in HDRS applied on admission and on discharge. Elevated levels of MDA adversely affected the efficiency of visual-spatial and auditory-verbal working memory, short-term declarative memory and the delayed recall declarative memory. 1. Higher concentration of plasma MDA in rDD patients is associated with the severity of depressive symptoms, both at the beginning of antidepressants pharmacotherapy, and after 8 weeks of its duration. 2. Elevated levels of plasma MDA are related to the impairment of visual-spatial and auditory-verbal working memory and short-term and delayed declarative memory.

Antioxidant /Antidepressant-like Effect of Ascorbic acid (Vitamine
C) and Fluoxetine
Another study investigated the influence of ascorbic acid
(which is an antioxidant with antidepressant-like effects in animals)
on both depressive-like behaviour induced by a chronic unpredictable
stress (CUS) paradigm and on serum markers of oxidative
stress and in cerebral cortex and hippocampus of mice [120]. The
CUS-model is an animal model for induced depression-like behaviour
in animals. Depressive-like behaviour induced by CUS was
accompanied by significantly increased lipid peroxidation (cerebral
cortex and hippocampus), decreased catalase (CAT) (cerebral cortex
and hippocampus) and glutathione reductase (GR) (hippocampus)
activities and reduced levels of glutathione (cerebral cortex).
Repeated ascorbic acid as well as fluoxetine administration significantly
reversed CUS-induced depressive-like behaviour as well as
oxidative damage. No alterations were observed in locomotor activity
and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activity in the same sample.
These findings pointed to a rapid and robust effect of ascorbic acid
in reversing behavioural and biochemical alterations induced in an
animal model [120].  Ascorbic acid treatment, similarly to fluoxetine, reverses depressive-like behavior and brain oxidative damage induced by chronic unpredictable stress.

 

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Ketamine and Psychedelic Drugs Change Structure of Neurons

ummary: A new study reveals psychedelics increase dendrites, dendritic spines and synapses, while ketamine may promote neuroplasticity. The findings could help develop new treatments for anxiety, depression and other related disorders.

Source: UC Davis.

A team of scientists at the University of California, Davis is exploring how hallucinogenic drugs impact the structure and function of neurons — research that could lead to new treatments for depression, anxiety, and related disorders. In a paper published on June 12 in the journal Cell Reports, they demonstrate that a wide range of psychedelic drugs, including well-known compounds such as LSD and MDMA, increase the number of neuronal branches (dendrites), the density of small protrusions on these branches (dendritic spines), and the number of connections between neurons (synapses). These structural changes suggest that psychedelics are capable of repairing the circuits that are malfunctioning in mood and anxiety disorders.

“People have long assumed that psychedelics are capable of altering neuronal structure, but this is the first study that clearly and unambiguously supports that hypothesis. What is really exciting is that psychedelics seem to mirror the effects produced by ketamine,” said David Olson, assistant professor in the Departments of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, who leads the research team.

Ketamine, an anesthetic, has been receiving a lot of attention lately because it produces rapid antidepressant effects in treatment-resistant populations, leading the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fast-track clinical trials of two antidepressant drugs based on ketamine. The antidepressant properties of ketamine may stem from its tendency to promote neural plasticity — the ability of neurons to rewire their connections.

“The rapid effects of ketamine on mood and plasticity are truly astounding. The big question we were trying to answer was whether or not other compounds are capable of doing what ketamine does,” Olson said.

Psychedelics show similar effects to ketamine

Olson’s group has demonstrated that psychedelics mimic the effects of ketamine on neurons grown in a dish, and that these results extend to structural and electrical properties of neurons in animals. Rats treated with a single dose of DMT — a psychedelic compound found in the Amazonian herbal tea known as ayahuasca — showed an increase in the number of dendritic spines, similar to that seen with ketamine treatment. DMT itself is very short-lived in the rat: Most of the drug is eliminated within an hour. But the “rewiring” effects on the brain could be seen 24 hours later, demonstrating that these effects last for some time.

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Fairfax | NOVA Ketamine IV Ketamine for depression | Fairfax, Va 22306 | 703-844-0184

Ketamine and Psychedelic Drugs Change Structure of Neurons

Summary: A new study reveals psychedelics increase dendrites, dendritic spines and synapses, while ketamine may promote neuroplasticity. The findings could help develop new treatments for anxiety, depression and other related disorders.

Source: UC Davis.

A team of scientists at the University of California, Davis is exploring how hallucinogenic drugs impact the structure and function of neurons — research that could lead to new treatments for depression, anxiety, and related disorders. In a paper published on June 12 in the journal Cell Reports, they demonstrate that a wide range of psychedelic drugs, including well-known compounds such as LSD and MDMA, increase the number of neuronal branches (dendrites), the density of small protrusions on these branches (dendritic spines), and the number of connections between neurons (synapses). These structural changes suggest that psychedelics are capable of repairing the circuits that are malfunctioning in mood and anxiety disorders.

“People have long assumed that psychedelics are capable of altering neuronal structure, but this is the first study that clearly and unambiguously supports that hypothesis. What is really exciting is that psychedelics seem to mirror the effects produced by ketamine,” said David Olson, assistant professor in the Departments of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, who leads the research team.

Ketamine, an anesthetic, has been receiving a lot of attention lately because it produces rapid antidepressant effects in treatment-resistant populations, leading the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fast-track clinical trials of two antidepressant drugs based on ketamine. The antidepressant properties of ketamine may stem from its tendency to promote neural plasticity — the ability of neurons to rewire their connections.

“The rapid effects of ketamine on mood and plasticity are truly astounding. The big question we were trying to answer was whether or not other compounds are capable of doing what ketamine does,” Olson said.

Psychedelics show similar effects to ketamine

Olson’s group has demonstrated that psychedelics mimic the effects of ketamine on neurons grown in a dish, and that these results extend to structural and electrical properties of neurons in animals. Rats treated with a single dose of DMT — a psychedelic compound found in the Amazonian herbal tea known as ayahuasca — showed an increase in the number of dendritic spines, similar to that seen with ketamine treatment. DMT itself is very short-lived in the rat: Most of the drug is eliminated within an hour. But the “rewiring” effects on the brain could be seen 24 hours later, demonstrating that these effects last for some time.

image shows neurons under psychedelics and ketamine

Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and ayahuasca change the structure of nerve cells, causing them to sprout more branches and spines, UC Davis researchers have found. This could help in “rewiring” the brain to treat depression and other disorders. In this false-colored image, the rainbow-colored cell was treated with LSD compared to a control cell in blue. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Calvin and Joanne Ly.

Behavioral studies also hint at the similarities between psychedelics and ketamine. In another recent paper published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, Olson’s group showed that DMT treatment enabled rats to overcome a “fear response” to the memory of a mild electric shock. This test is considered to be a model of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and interestingly, ketamine produces the same effect. Recent clinical trials have shown that like ketamine, DMT-containing ayahuasca might have fast-acting effects in people with recurrent depression, Olson said.

These discoveries potentially open doors for the development of novel drugs to treat mood and anxiety disorders, Olson said. His team has proposed the term “psychoplastogen” to describe this new class of “plasticity-promoting” compounds.

“Ketamine is no longer our only option. Our work demonstrates that there are a number of distinct chemical scaffolds capable of promoting plasticity like ketamine, providing additional opportunities for medicinal chemists to develop safer and more effective alternatives,” Olson said.

 

Psychedelic drugs, ketamine change structure of neurons

Psychedelic drugs, ketamine change structure of neurons

Psychedelics as Possible Treatments for Depression and PTSD

A team of scientists at the University of California, Davis, is exploring how hallucinogenic drugs impact the structure and function of neurons — research that could lead to new treatments for depression, anxiety and related disorders.

In a paper published on June 12 in the journal Cell Reports, they demonstrate that a wide range of psychedelic drugs, including well-known compounds such as LSD and MDMA, increase the number of neuronal branches (dendrites), the density of small protrusions on these branches (dendritic spines) and the number of connections between neurons (synapses). These structural changes could suggest that psychedelics are capable of repairing the circuits that are malfunctioning in mood and anxiety disorders.

“People have long assumed that psychedelics are capable of altering neuronal structure, but this is the first study that clearly and unambiguously supports that hypothesis. What is really exciting is that psychedelics seem to mirror the effects produced by ketamine,” said David Olson, assistant professor in the departments of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, who leads the research team.

Ketamine, an anesthetic, has been receiving a lot of attention lately because it produces rapid antidepressant effects in treatment-resistant populations, leading the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fast-track clinical trials of two antidepressant drugs based on ketamine. The antidepressant properties of ketamine may stem from its tendency to promote neural plasticity — the ability of neurons to rewire their connections.

“The rapid effects of ketamine on mood and plasticity are truly astounding. The big question we were trying to answer was whether or not other compounds are capable of doing what ketamine does,” Olson said.

Psychedelics show similar effects to ketamine

Olson’s group has demonstrated that psychedelics mimic the effects of ketamine on neurons grown in a dish, and that these results extend to structural and electrical properties of neurons in animals. Rats treated with a single dose of DMT — a psychedelic compound found in the Amazonian herbal tea known as ayahuasca — showed an increase in the number of dendritic spines, similar to that seen with ketamine treatment. DMT itself is very short-lived in the rat: Most of the drug is eliminated within an hour. But the “rewiring” effects on the brain could be seen 24 hours later, demonstrating that these effects last for some time.

Behavioral studies also hint at the similarities between psychedelics and ketamine. In another recent paper published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, Olson’s group showed that DMT treatment enabled rats to overcome a “fear response” to the memory of a mild electric shock. This test is considered to be a model of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and interestingly, ketamine produces the same effect. Recent clinical trials have shown that like ketamine, DMT-containing ayahuasca might have fast-acting effects in people with recurrent depression, Olson said.

These discoveries potentially open doors for the development of novel drugs to treat mood and anxiety disorders, Olson said. His team has proposed the term “psychoplastogen” to describe this new class of “plasticity-promoting” compounds.

“Ketamine is no longer our only option. Our work demonstrates that there are a number of distinct chemical scaffolds capable of promoting plasticity like ketamine, providing additional opportunities for medicinal chemists to develop safer and more effective alternatives,” Olson said.

Additional co-authors on the Cell Reports “Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity.” study are Calvin Ly, Alexandra Greb, Sina Soltanzadeh Zarandi, Lindsay Cameron, Jonathon Wong, Eden Barragan, Paige Wilson, Michael Paddy, Kassandra Ori-McKinney, Kyle Burbach, Megan Dennis, Alexander Sood, Whitney Duim, Kimberley McAllister and John Gray.

Olson and Cameron were co-authors on the ACS Chemical Neuroscience paper along with Charlie Benson and Lee Dunlap.

The work was partly supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional
Neural Plasticity

Below is the Intro and Discussion for the article:

Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional neural Plasticity

Authors:

Calvin Ly, Alexandra C. Greb,
Lindsay P. Cameron, …,
Kassandra M. Ori-McKenney,
John A. Gray, David E. Olson
Correspondence
deolson@ucdavis.edu

In Brief
Ly et al. demonstrate that psychedelic
compounds such as LSD, DMT, and DOI
increase dendritic arbor complexity,
promote dendritic spine growth, and
stimulate synapse formation. These
cellular effects are similar to those
produced by the fast-acting
antidepressant ketamine and highlight
the potential of psychedelics for treating
depression and related disorders.

  • Highlights
     Serotonergic psychedelics increase neuritogenesis,
    spinogenesis, and synaptogenesis
  •  Psychedelics promote plasticity via an evolutionarily
    conserved mechanism
  •  TrkB, mTOR, and 5-HT2A signaling underlie psychedelicinduced
    plasticity
  •  Noribogaine, but not ibogaine, is capable of promoting
    structural neural plasticity

SUMMARY
Atrophy of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC)
plays a key role in the pathophysiology of depression
and related disorders. The ability to promote
both structural and functional plasticity in the PFC
has been hypothesized to underlie the fast-acting
antidepressant properties of the dissociative anesthetic
ketamine. Here, we report that, like ketamine,
serotonergic psychedelics are capable of robustly
increasing neuritogenesis and/or spinogenesis both
in vitro and in vivo. These changes in neuronal structure
are accompanied by increased synapse number
and function, as measured by fluorescence microscopy
and electrophysiology. The structural changes
induced by psychedelics appear to result from stimulation
of the TrkB, mTOR, and 5-HT2A signaling
pathways and could possibly explain the clinical
effectiveness of these compounds. Our results underscore
the therapeutic potential of psychedelics
and, importantly, identify several lead scaffolds for
medicinal chemistry efforts focused on developing
plasticity-promoting compounds as safe, effective,
and fast-acting treatments for depression and
related disorders.

INTRODUCTION
Neuropsychiatric diseases, including mood and anxiety disorders,
are some of the leading causes of disability worldwide
and place an enormous economic burden on society (Gustavsson
et al., 2011; Whiteford et al., 2013). Approximately
one-third of patients will not respond to current antidepressant
drugs, and those who do will usually require at least 2–4 weeks
of treatment before they experience any beneficial effects
(Rush et al., 2006). Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), and addiction share common neural circuitry (Arnsten,
2009; Russo et al., 2009; Peters et al., 2010; Russo and
Nestler, 2013) and have high comorbidity (Kelly and Daley,
2013). A preponderance of evidence from a combination of
human imaging, postmortem studies, and animal models suggests
that atrophy of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC)
plays a key role in the pathophysiology of depression and
related disorders and is precipitated and/or exacerbated by
stress (Arnsten, 2009; Autry and Monteggia, 2012; Christoffel
et al., 2011; Duman and Aghajanian, 2012; Duman et al.,
2016; Izquierdo et al., 2006; Pittenger and Duman, 2008;
Qiao et al., 2016; Russo and Nestler, 2013). These structural
changes, such as the retraction of neurites, loss of dendritic
spines, and elimination of synapses, can potentially be counteracted
by compounds capable of promoting structural and
functional neural plasticity in the PFC (Castre´ n and Antila,
2017; Cramer et al., 2011; Duman, 2002; Hayley and Litteljohn,
2013; Kolb and Muhammad, 2014; Krystal et al., 2009;
Mathew et al., 2008), providing a general solution to treating
all of these related diseases. However, only a relatively small
number of compounds capable of promoting plasticity in the
PFC have been identified so far, each with significant drawbacks
(Castre´ n and Antila, 2017). Of these, the dissociative
anesthetic ketamine has shown the most promise, revitalizing
the field of molecular psychiatry in recent years.
Ketamine has demonstrated remarkable clinical potential as a
fast-acting antidepressant (Berman et al., 2000; Ionescu et al.,
2016; Zarate et al., 2012), even exhibiting efficacy in treatmentresistant
populations (DiazGranados et al., 2010; Murrough
et al., 2013; Zarate et al., 2006). Additionally, it has shown promise
for treating PTSD (Feder et al., 2014) and heroin addiction
(Krupitsky et al., 2002). Animal models suggest that its therapeutic
effects stem from its ability to promote the growth of dendritic
spines, increase the synthesis of synaptic proteins, and
strengthen synaptic responses (Autry et al., 2011; Browne and
Lucki, 2013; Li et al., 2010).

Like ketamine, serotonergic psychedelics and entactogens
have demonstrated rapid and long-lasting antidepressant and
anxiolytic effects in the clinic after a single dose (Bouso et al.,
2008; Carhart-Harris and Goodwin, 2017; Grob et al., 2011;
Mithoefer et al., 2013, 2016; Nichols et al., 2017; Sanches
et al., 2016; Oso´ rio et al., 2015), including in treatment-resistant
populations (Carhart-Harris et al., 2016, 2017; Mithoefer et al.,
2011; Oehen et al., 2013; Rucker et al., 2016). In fact, there
have been numerous clinical trials in the past 30 years examining
the therapeutic effects of these drugs (Dos Santos et al., 2016),
with 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) recently
receiving the ‘‘breakthrough therapy’’ designation by the Food
and Drug Administration for treating PTSD. Furthermore, classical
psychedelics and entactogens produce antidepressant
and anxiolytic responses in rodent behavioral tests, such as
the forced swim test (Cameron et al., 2018) and fear extinction
learning (Cameron et al., 2018; Catlow et al., 2013; Young
et al., 2015), paradigms for which ketamine has also been shown
to be effective (Autry et al., 2011; Girgenti et al., 2017; Li et al.,
2010). Despite the promising antidepressant, anxiolytic, and
anti-addictive properties of serotonergic psychedelics, their
therapeutic mechanism of action remains poorly understood,
and concerns about safety have severely limited their clinical
usefulness.
Because of the similarities between classical serotonergic
psychedelics and ketamine in both preclinical models and clinical
studies, we reasoned that their therapeutic effects might
result from a shared ability to promote structural and functional
neural plasticity in cortical neurons. Here, we report that serotonergic
psychedelics and entactogens from a variety of chemical
classes (e.g., amphetamine, tryptamine, and ergoline) display
plasticity-promoting properties comparable to or greater than
ketamine. Like ketamine, these compounds stimulate structural
plasticity by activating the mammalian target of rapamycin
(mTOR). To classify the growing number of compounds capable
of rapidly promoting induced plasticity (Castre´ n and Antila,
2017), we introduce the term ‘‘psychoplastogen,’’ from the
Greek roots psych- (mind), -plast (molded), and -gen (producing).
Our work strengthens the growing body of literature indicating
that psychoplastogens capable of promoting plasticity
in the PFC might have value as fast-acting antidepressants
and anxiolytics with efficacy in treatment-resistant populations
and suggests that it may be possible to use classical psychedelics
as lead structures for identifying safer alternatives.

DISCUSSION
Classical serotonergic psychedelics are known to cause
changes in mood (Griffiths et al., 2006, 2008, 2011) and brain
function (Carhart-Harris et al., 2017) that persist long after the
acute effects of the drugs have subsided. Moreover, several
psychedelics elevate glutamate levels in the cortex (Nichols,
2004, 2016) and increase gene expression in vivo of the neurotrophin
BDNF as well as immediate-early genes associated with
plasticity (Martin et al., 2014; Nichols and Sanders-Bush, 2002;
Vaidya et al., 1997). This indirect evidence has led to the
reasonable hypothesis that psychedelics promote structural
and functional neural plasticity, although this assumption had
never been rigorously tested (Bogenschutz and Pommy,
2012; Vollenweider and Kometer, 2010). The data presented
here provide direct evidence for this hypothesis, demonstrating
that psychedelics cause both structural and functional changes
in cortical neurons.

Prior to this study, two reports suggested
that psychedelics might be able
to produce changes in neuronal structure.
Jones et al. (2009) demonstrated that DOI
was capable of transiently increasing the
size of dendritic spines on cortical neurons,
but no change in spine density was
observed. The second study showed
that DOI promoted neurite extension in a
cell line of neuronal lineage (Marinova
et al., 2017). Both of these reports utilized
DOI, a psychedelic of the amphetamine
class. Here we demonstrate that the ability
to change neuronal structure is not a
unique property of amphetamines like
DOI because psychedelics from the ergoline,
tryptamine, and iboga classes of compounds also promote
structural plasticity. Additionally, D-amphetamine does not increase
the complexity of cortical dendritic arbors in culture,
and therefore, these morphological changes cannot be simply
attributed to an increase in monoamine neurotransmission.
The identification of psychoplastogens belonging to distinct
chemical families is an important aspect of this work because
it suggests that ketamine is not unique in its ability to promote
structural and functional plasticity. In addition to ketamine, the
prototypical psychoplastogen, only a relatively small number of
plasticity-promoting small molecules have been identified previously.
Such compounds include the N-methyl-D-aspartate
(NMDA) receptor ligand GLYX-13 (i.e., rapastinel), the mGlu2/3
antagonist LY341495, the TrkB agonist 7,8-DHF, and the muscarinic
receptor antagonist scopolamine (Lepack et al., 2016; Castello
et al., 2014; Zeng et al., 2012; Voleti et al., 2013). We
observe that hallucinogens from four distinct structural classes
(i.e., tryptamine, amphetamine, ergoline, and iboga) are also
potent psychoplastogens, providing additional lead scaffolds
for medicinal chemistry efforts aimed at identifying neurotherapeutics.
Furthermore, our cellular assays revealed that several
of these compounds were more efficacious (e.g., MDMA) or more potent (e.g., LSD) than ketamine. In fact, the plasticity-promoting
properties of psychedelics and entactogens rivaled that
of BDNF (Figures 3A–3C and S3). The extreme potency of LSD
in particular might be due to slow off kinetics, as recently proposed
following the disclosure of the LSD-bound 5-HT2B crystal
structure (Wacker et al., 2017).
Importantly, the psychoplastogenic effects of psychedelics in
cortical cultures were also observed in vivo using both vertebrate
and invertebrate models, demonstrating that they act through an
evolutionarily conserved mechanism. Furthermore, the concentrations
of psychedelics utilized in our in vitro cell culture assays
were consistent with those reached in the brain following systemic
administration of therapeutic doses in rodents (Yang
et al., 2018; Cohen and Vogel, 1972). This suggests that neuritogenesis,
spinogenesis, and/or synaptogenesis assays performed
using cortical cultures might have value for identifying
psychoplastogens and fast-acting antidepressants. It should
be noted that our structural plasticity studies performed in vitro
utilized neurons exposed to psychedelics for extended periods
of time. Because brain exposure to these compounds is often
of short duration due to rapid metabolism, it will be interesting
to assess the kinetics of psychedelic-induced plasticity.
A key question in the field of psychedelic medicine has been
whether or not psychedelics promote changes in the density of
dendritic spines (Kyzar et al., 2017). Using super-resolution
SIM, we clearly demonstrate that psychedelics do, in fact, increase
the density of dendritic spines on cortical neurons, an effect
that is not restricted to a particular structural class of compounds.
Using DMT, we verified that cortical neuron spine
density increases in vivo and that these changes in structural
plasticity are accompanied by functional effects such as
increased amplitude and frequency of spontaneous EPSCs.

We specifically designed these experiments
to mimic previous studies of ketamine
(Li et al., 2010) so that we might
directly compare these two compounds,
and, to a first approximation, they appear
to be remarkably similar. Not only do they
both increase spine density and neuronal
excitability in the cortex, they seem to
have similar behavioral effects. We have
shown previously that, like ketamine,
DMT promotes fear extinction learning
and has antidepressant effects in the
forced swim test (Cameron et al., 2018). These results, coupled
with the fact that ayahuasca, a DMT-containing concoction, has
potent antidepressant effects in humans (Oso´ rio et al., 2015;
Sanches et al., 2016; Santos et al., 2007), suggests that classical
psychedelics and ketamine might share a related therapeutic
mechanism.
Although the molecular targets of ketamine and psychedelics
are different (NMDA and 5-HT2A receptors, respectively), they
appear to cause similar downstream effects on structural plasticity
by activating mTOR. This finding is significant because ketamine is
known to be addictive whereas many classical psychedelics are
not (Nutt et al., 2007, 2010). The exact mechanisms by which these
compounds stimulate mTOR is still not entirely understood, but
our data suggest that, at least for classical psychedelics, TrkB
and 5-HT2A receptors are involved. Although most classical psychedelics
are not considered to be addictive, there are still significant
safety concerns with their use in medicine because they
cause profound perceptual disturbances and still have the potential
to be abused. Therefore, the identification of non-hallucinogenic
analogs capable of promoting plasticity in the PFC could
facilitate a paradigm shift in our approach to treating neuropsychiatric
diseases. Moreover, such compounds could be critical to
resolving the long-standing debate in the field concerning whether
the subjective effects of psychedelics are necessary for their therapeutic
effects (Majic et al., 2015  ). Although our group is actively
investigating the psychoplastogenic properties of non-hallucinogenic
analogs of psychedelics, others have reported the therapeutic
potential of safer structural and functional analogs of ketamine
(Moskal et al., 2017; Yang et al., 2015; Zanos et al., 2016).
Our data demonstrate that classical psychedelics from several
distinct chemical classes are capable of robustly promoting the
growth of both neurites and dendritic spines in vitro, in vivo, and across species. Importantly, our studies highlight the similarities
between the effects of ketamine and those of classical serotonergic
psychedelics, supporting the hypothesis that the clinical
antidepressant and anxiolytic effects of these molecules might
result from their ability to promote structural and functional plasticity
in prefrontal cortical neurons. We have demonstrated that
the plasticity-promoting properties of psychedelics require
TrkB, mTOR, and 5-HT2A signaling, suggesting that these key
signaling hubs may serve as potential targets for the development
of psychoplastogens, fast-acting antidepressants, and anxiolytics.
Taken together, our results suggest that psychedelics
may be used as lead structures to identify next-generation neurotherapeutics
with improved efficacy and safety profiles.

Also below is a great article on DMT and neuroplasticity:

 

Dark Classics in Chemical Neuroscience N,N-Dimethyltryptamine DMT

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Below is a recent study regarding the treatment of adolescents with Ketamine for refractory depression. There seems to be good success and longer lasting results:

Intravenous Ketamine for Adolescents with Treatment-Resistant Depression: An Open-Label Study

The average response rate in published studies testing ketamine for adult TRD is 67% (Wan et al. 2015), which is considerably higher than TRD interventions (e.g., the average response rate for transcranial magnetic stimulation is 45%
(Conelea et al. 2017).

Background: Novel interventions for treatment-resistant depression (TRD) in adolescents are urgently needed. Ketamine has been studied in adults with TRD, but little information is available for adolescents. This study investigated efficacy and tolerability of intravenous ketamine in adolescents with TRD, and explored clinical response predictors.

Methods: Adolescents, 12–18 years of age, with TRD (failure to respond to two previous antidepressant trials) were administered six ketamine (0.5 mg/kg) infusions over 2 weeks. Clinical response was defined as a 50% decrease in Children’s Depression Rating Scale-Revised (CDRS-R); remission was CDRS-R score ≤28. Tolerability assessment included monitoring vital signs and dissociative symptoms using the Clinician-Administered Dissociative States Scale (CADSS).

Results: Thirteen participants (mean age 16.9 years, range 14.5–18.8 years, eight biologically male) completed the protocol. Average decrease in CDRS-R was 42.5% (p = 0.0004). Five (38%) adolescents met criteria for clinical response. Three responders showed sustained remission at 6-week follow-up; relapse occurred within 2 weeks for the other two responders. Ketamine infusions were generally well tolerated; dissociative symptoms and hemodynamic symptoms were transient. Higher dose was a significant predictor of treatment response.

Conclusions: These results demonstrate the potential role for ketamine in treating adolescents with TRD. Limitations include the open-label design and small sample; future research addressing these issues are needed to confirm these results. Additionally, evidence suggested a dose–response relationship; future studies are needed to optimize dose. Finally, questions remain regarding the long-term safety of ketamine as a depression treatment; more information is needed before broader clinical use.

Intravenous Ketamine for Adolescents – PDF

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