A nasal spray containing ketamine seems to quickly help ease depression and even check suicidal thoughts, a study finds.
Psychiatrists were guardedly hopeful about the anesthetic’s potential for treating depression.
The research was funded by drug maker Janssen.
Dr. Matthew Lorber, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who wasn’t involved in the new study said;
“This study only had 68 people registered, which is a limitation, so there really needs to be larger-scale studies before being able to confidently recommend ketamine as a first-line choice.”
“Longer-term studies also need to be conducted, but ketamine is certainly an exciting option that holds a lot of promise, especially when traditional medications have failed,” Lober added.
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Ketamine has an uneven history, and is best known as the recreational club drug “Special K.” But researchers have also noted its effects in easing signs of depression.
A group of researchers led by Dr. Carla Canuso, of Janssen Research and Development in Titusville, N.J., conducted a study involving 68 people diagnosed with major depression. The participants were randomly assigned to receive either a “dummy” placebo nasal spray, or ketamine in a nasal spray form called esketamine.
All of the participants were believed to have such severe depression that they were at looming risk of committing suicide, the researchers said. They were already using standard antidepressant throughout the research.
Canuso’s team then tracked the effects of esketamine at four hours after use, 24 hours later and 25 days later. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which people were taking esketamine and which were taking the placebo.
The result: At the four-hour and 24-hour mark, there was a pointedly greater improvement between 30 and 40 percent reductions in depression scores and a dropping of suicidal thoughts for those taking the esketamine nasal spray.
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The effect did not last to the 25-day mark. Still, the study is proof that intranasal esketamine may be an effective treatment for rapid reduction of depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation [thoughts] in patients,” Canuso’s team concluded.
The study was published April 16 in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
The research team noted that the assessments of depression level and suicide risk were made by both the patients and their doctors.
Side effects did occur for some participants including dizziness, nausea, dissociation, and headache, the scientists said.
The profits in this small study are encouraging, but the researchers stressed that ketamine does come with a possibility for abuse.
“Traditional antidepressants typically take four to six weeks before there is an improvement in depression, and they have not been shown to decrease the incidence of suicide, so the quick response combined with the improvement in suicidality sets ketamine apart from traditional medications alone,” Lorber said.
Dr. Robert Dicker helps direct child and adolescent psychiatry at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He agreed that new and better depression medications are required.
“One must keep in mind that the prevalence of depression in our adult population is high, Dicker said.
“That depression is the most common diagnosis related to suicide and 1 million American adults attempt suicide yearly”.
“A large number of adults being treated for depression are resistant to our current treatments, so the need to develop new treatment approaches are tremendous,” Dicker added. “The possible utility of ketamine in treating this population is an important opportunity of study.”