Clinician's Digest

Clinician's Digest

Is Ketamine the New Antidepressant to Rave About?

By Chris Lyford

May/June 2015

Since it was introduced as an anesthetic in the 1970s, ketamine has occupied an uncertain pharmacological status. It’s been used as both a Vietnam-era battlefield painkiller and an illicit party drug, better known as Special K. But recent findings in studies around the world have some researchers wondering whether it might be the silver bullet for depression that Prozac and its sidekicks never turned out to be.

By now, the limitations of the SSRIs are widely known. Only 27 percent of depressed patients using SSRIs achieve remission of symptoms within 12 weeks, according to NIMH’s landmark STAR*D study. Even when SSRIs work, they take an average of 7 to 10 weeks to take effect. And in many cases, they have side effects too undesirable for clients to stick with them.

Some researchers now believe that ketamine could be the forerunner of a new generation of antidepressants with startling effectiveness. Administered intravenously over the course of 40 minutes, it can alleviate symptoms of depression within two hours. This has already led to ketamine’s use in cases of high suicide risk, where the stakes are high and time is often short. Even after its initial effects wear off, many clients report feeling less depressed, even days after the initial injection.

“I think ketamine’s one of the most promising drugs to come along in decades,” says John Preston, professor emeritus at Alliant International University in Sacramento and author of You Can Beat

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