Possible New Use for Ketamine
Ketamine, known to clubbers as Special K and to law enforcement as the “date rape” drug, hasn’t always gotten favorable press. But Yale University Professor of Psychiatry Ronald Duman hopes to change that. He believes Ketamine is “like a magic drug” and hopes one day Ketamine will be known as a safe and effective treatment for people with depression.
Professor Duman points to research he and his team conducted and reported recently in the journal Science involving brain maps of rats that had been injected with Ketamine. After receiving the injections, the team observed that synaptic nerve connections previously damaged by stress showed signs of regeneration. This regeneration process is called synaptogenesis and it appears Ketamine may have a favorable effect on a pathway that assists in forming these important links between neurons. The mice that didn’t receive injections failed to exhibit signs of synaptogenesis. In addition, they concluded that a certain spot along this pathway is where proteins necessary for the formation of new synapses are produced.
But that wasn’t all. Professor Duman and his team observed a lessening of depression-like behavior in the rats that received the injections.
What does all this mean?
It means it’s quite possible that a modified formulation of Ketamine could one day receive widespread approval as a way to treat symptoms of depression. This is exciting because a safer and easier-to-administer formulation could work much faster than currently available treatments like Prozac. Those other treatments can take two weeks or longer to start working. Ketamine on the other hand, brings relief after a few hours. Professor Duman believes the drug’s involvement with synaptogenesis may be the reason Ketamine works so much faster. What’s also promising is that a single dose of Ketamine remains effective for seven to 10 days.
That’s pretty amazing for a drug that started out as a general anesthetic and in 2006 was classified as a Class C banned recreational drug. In the past, doctors have used Ketamine to treat severe cases of depression including people with suicidal tendencies. But studies show it is not a practical treatment. Administered intravenously and only under the supervision of a qualified medical specialist, the drug is powerful and has in some cases caused short-term psychotic symptoms.
However, other studies have shown that 70 percent of depression sufferers who hadn’t responded successfully to previous depression treatments did respond favorably when treated with low dosages of injected Ketamine.
Is another application in Ketamine’s future?
Further study of this pathway and Ketamine’s antidepressant effect on the pathway, specifically the point at which the proteins are produced, will continue. But right now Ketamine remains a Schedule III drug. And even though application as a treatment for depression sounds promising, many will insist the drug maintain its current classification. Let’s not forget that Ketamine is still dangerous. Only time will tell whether any potential new benefits will outweigh the potential dangers, including the possible development of psychotic symptoms.
Stay tuned for more.