A study conducted on bipolar patients who had not been able to find an effective treatment showed a few years ago that the street drug Ketamine could be effective in depression treatment. Ketamine is known as Special K to recreational users and has been used as both a street drug and as an animal tranquilizer.
In the 18 patient study, patients with bipolar disorder received one intravenous dose of Ketamine and began to feel relief of their depressive symptoms in as little as forty minutes. However, the study raised more questions than it answered, because the mechanism causing Ketamine’s effects was not known. Further, eighteen patients is an exceedingly small sample size and the fact that the drug was administered intravenously makes it difficult to control for either a placebo effect or observer bias. The patients also experienced often-dramatic side effects including hallucinations and psychosis.
More recently, however, Yale researcher Ronald Duman conducted research on rats in an attempt to uncover how Ketamine affects the brain. He discovered that it blocks receptors for the neurotransmitter gluatmate and may help to regrow synaptic connections in the brain. Some synaptic connections may either be damaged by depression or their damage may be caused by depression. In either case, this newer study has lent more credibility to earlier Ketamine studies.
Patients with depression often find themselves suffering through months of side effects only to discover that a popular SSRI drug doesn’t work or stops working. A drug that shows such immediate results is promising, although using Ketamine as a treatment for depression is not practical. The drug would have to be administered intravenously every 7-10 days and may not be safe for long term use. However, the recent studies on Ketamine may be able to shed some light on how Depression functions in the brain and may open the door to research on newer Depression medications.