Recent data suggests that approximately 19.4 million adults in the United States had at least one episode of major depression in their lifetime. Needless to say, depression is a common mental illness that’s often treated with antidepressants. Unfortunately, however, not all patients respond to the prescribed medications. In such cases, Ketamine – which is an anesthetic drug – can be used in people with treatment-resistant depression. It’s been shown that under strict medical supervision and low dosages, Ketamine treatments can be effective. Its fast-acting reaction is also helpful in controlling or managing cravings for alcohol and other substances.
The history of ketamine started in the 1950s when the Parke-Davis company was looking for an ideal anesthetic agent. Phencyclidine (PCP) or its trade name Sernyl was investigated as a human anesthetic. PCP caused genuine narcosis but was not satisfactory for surgery because it can cause severe excitation and unmanageable or prolonged postoperative recovery based on studies. In the late 1950s, the pharmaceutical company developed eticyclidine, but it was not used widely because of frequent hallucinations. However, the pharmaceutical company’s chemical consultant Calvin Lee Stevens synthesized several PCP derivatives in the lab. One of the agents (CI-1582) created by Stevens in 1962 produced excellent results and was named ketamine because it was a ketone together with an amine. Ketamine provided a potent analgesia but was less strong than PCP.
Today, ketamine is used to manage depression that is resistant to treatment. Indeed, several studies demonstrated how low doses of ketamine can improve the postoperative condition of patients with depression confirming that it possesses an antidepressant characteristic. More importantly, the drug does not act within weeks, but within a few hours making it a fast antidepressant. Hence, ketamine can support people with suicidal tendencies overcome reckless behavior and thoughts.
Ketamine therapy is now being used in addiction treatment as well, to help users reduce their dependence on alcohol and drugs. A trial led by the University of Exeter, the Ketamine for Reduction of Alcohol Relapse (KARE), produced encouraging results. Individuals with severe alcohol disorder managed to stay off alcohol for longer periods when they were given low doses of ketamine in combination with psychological therapy.
According to Professor Anne Lingford-Hughes of Imperial College London, ‘ketamine therapy may be one way to reverse the alcohol-related damage experienced by many people.’ Merve Mollaahmetoglu of the University of Exeter also said that the experiences participants described after taking ketamine suggest that the ‘drug gives a new perspective in psychological therapy.’ The anesthetic induces a state of being outside the body which helps patients step back and consider their relationship with alcohol. Ketamine has demonstrated that it can reduce cravings and motivations for cocaine and opioids. A study by Jones et al indicated that the drug may facilitate abstinence rates among substance users. The authors also recommend inclusion of optimal dose and frequency schedules in future trials.
Ketamine is not only effective as a pain reliever and anesthesia. It is fast acting making it an operative treatment for people with depression and those at high risk of taking their own lives. The drug is also linked to positive outcomes in combination with behavioral therapy to fight alcohol and substance misuse.