Ketamine, a New Hope for Depression?,
September 21, 2017

The August issue of Time Magazine features a cover story on depression and one of the latest developments in treatment: ketamine hydrochloride.

We’ve received many inquiries about the controversial new drug and want to share important perspectives from our research team.

What is Ketamine?

First, ketamine is an FDA-approved anesthetic for humans and is also a powerful sedative for horses. There is now growing evidence that the drug can cause a rapid antidepressant effect in many people with severe depression. It can also put an end to suicidal thoughts. For that reason many experts proclaim ketamine as a much-needed breakthrough in depression treatment. Ketamine is fast-acting – an undeniable advantage over current medications — and represents a brand new category of drug that works where existing treatments fail.

However, HDRF Board member Dr. Steven Roose of Columbia University cautions that ketamine use for depression is not approved by the FDA and remains highly experimental. For one, the drug is a powerful hallucinogen that is illicitly used, and abused, as the psychedelic club drug “Special K.”

The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson is currently conducting clinical trials on a nasal spray form of ketamine known as “esketamine.” However, until the trials prove successful, any use of ketamine is off-label. The clinics that deliver ketamine treatment are not regulated, and we do not know the long term effects of regular ketamine use.

HDRF Depression Task Force and Ketamine

Because of ketamines’s promise, and the need to better understand its risks, scientists on our Depression Task Force are studying the compound in the laboratory, along with other novel treatments. Their goal is to understand how ketamine affects key brain circuits and cells. Ultimately the research will help illuminate the molecular underpinnings of depression and the safest and most effective interventions for each individual.

Ketamine has also been featured prominently in our event seminars. Last fall, our Annual Luncheon Seminar focused on “The Search for New Depression Medications” with Yale Chief of Psychiatry Dr. John Krystal, a world-renowned expert on ketamine and its action in the brain.

To view his talk, please click here (his talk starts at 9:38):

In addition, our HOPE Luncheon Seminar in 2008 featured a discussion of ketamine by Dr. Dennis Charney, Dean of the School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is another world figure in ketamine research.

To view his talk, please click here:

We hope you find this information useful as the media continues to shed light on new treatments for depression, including ketamine. Our goal is to share all the facts with you so that you can know the risks and benefits of any potential new treatment.

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