horse tranquiliser party drug Ketamine could now be used to treat patients with severe depression, after repeated instances of its positive effects on those with suicidal thoughts.
Ketamine, or ‘Ket’ for short, is a form of general anaesthetic that has been a staple of the recreational drug scene after rising to prominence in the early 1960’s, as well as being used in child operations, veterinary surgeries and scenarios which require emergency surgery. Its effects, which range from making you feel relaxed but incoherent and gormless to ensuring that you are physically incapable of moving depending on dosage, often result in a pronounced comedown, popularly called the ‘k-hole’.
How does Ket help to reduce depression levels?
In short, scientists don’t know, however a 2010 journal suggested that the drug prompts the brain to increase the production of proteins in the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain which regulates cognitive, emotional and behavioural functions) by blocking proteins called NMDA receptors. In doing this, the growth of new synapses (the ‘junctions’ between two neurons, or nerve cells) is promoted, which therefore leads to greater connectivity in the brain. It also switches certain connections on and off, which for some reason causes a rapid anti-depressive effect.
Currently, many patients with severe depression are treated with drugs called SSRI’s (serotonin reuptake inhibitors), however they often take over three weeks to actually have some sort of effect, have no guarantee of actually working, and often have many uncomfortable side-effects such as nausea, insomnia, weight gain and erectile disfunction – none of which sound particularly fun. Patients who have used Ket, however, have often reported positive developments in as little as two hours, with the dosage taken being low enough to theoretically prevent addiction and other nasty stuff that is associated with the drug. Interestingly, however, the ‘psychedelic’ effects of taking Ketamine is thought by researchers to play a significant role in patient recovery, with Steven Levine, a Princeton psychiatrist, saying that
With depression, people often feel very isolated and disconnected. Ketamine seems to leave something indelible behind. People use remarkably similar language to describe their experience: ‘a sense of connection to other people,’ ‘a greater sense of connection to the universe.
Of course, our understanding of how Ketamine can improve the lives of many who have severe depression is limited, however the ‘discovery’ of this treatment has great potential – the Washington Post has reported that ‘experts are calling it the most significant advance in mental health in more than half a century’. In addition, the American anesthesiologist Enrique Abreu has said that ‘this drug is 75 percent effective, which means that three-quarters of my patients do well. Nothing in medicine has those kind of numbers’.With 1 in 4 people in the UK expected to exhibit some form of mental health problem in the course of the year, any breakthrough in this field is surely welcome. Indeed, Ketamine is being studied for its effectiveness in treating other forms of mental illness, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme anxiety and Rett syndrome, which is a rare developmental disorder on the autism spectrum.
Unfortunately, the somewhat unsavoury side-effects of Ketamine have hampered the expansion of its use, with scientists worried about potential misuse and the hallucinogenic aspects of it. Research is underway to try and reproduce compounds that have the same effects as Ket without producing a ‘high’.
Despite the positive effects the drug has on those with severe depression, Ketamine is still a dangerous drug. Be sure to see how unappealing and inconvenient being in a k-hole is by checking out the video below: