Doctors have carried out an initial trial in the UK and have said that the illegal party drug and horse tranquiliser, Ketamine, may become a new treatment for severe depression.
The drug has helped patients who have been depressed for several years by removing their symptoms within a few hours of taking low prescribed doses of it.
A small trial was undertaken on 28 people and the results, which have been published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, have shown that the benefits derived from the drug could last for months.
Depression affects at least one in 10 people at some stage during their lives. Anti-depressants offer relief to some patients, as do certain behavioural therapies. However, a large number of patients are resistant to all forms of treatment.
Scientists at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust prescribed ketamine doses to patients over a period of 40 minutes and on six occasions. Eight of the patients indicated an improvement in the levels of depression, while four had improved to a level where they were no longer classified as being depressed. Some of the patients experienced a response within six hours of their first ketamine infusion.
The lead researcher in the study, Dr Rupert McShane, has said that the effects were very dramatic for certain people. He said that this type of result is what makes doing psychiatry worth it as it is wonderful to observe. The patients now say, ‘ah, this is how I used to think’ and their relatives are happy to see that they have a member of their family back.
Dr McShane confirmed that the results included those of patients who have suffered with depression over a period of 20 years.
The one problem the researchers face is the duration of the drug’s effect.
Some patients experience a relapse within days, while others have experience the benefit for a period up to three months. The longer term patients have been able to take additional doses of the drug since.
The side-effects linked to the dosages are quite serious. One patient had the blood supply to the brain interrupted during the trials.
Aside from these side effects, researchers have said that it offers a new method of research where professionals have struggled to find new treatment methods for depression.
Ketamine is in the process of being reclassified as a class B drug. It is already being used as an anaesthetic and to treat back pain.
Image credit: Life Mental Health