Ketamine – Holy Grail or Passing Fad?

depression drugs

Depressive disorders remain a significant cause of mental health and disability issues in most of the world and although treatments have come on in leaps and bounds over the last few decades there does remain much room for improvement. Some people with depression are resistant to currently available treatments both pharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic and others who do respond well experience side effects or go through lengthy periods of continued suffering until their medicine or therapy begins to take affect.

It’s not unusual for the main stream press to get interested when a new treatment for depression begins to have results and the new(ish) kid on the block is Ketamine. Although Ketamine has traditionally been used as an anaesthetic and has been in use since the 1960’s as well as being utilised post operatively for pain management it is relatively new in the world of mood treatments. This being said, studies have been conducted on it for some years now. The World Health Organisation lists Ketamine as an essential medicine but only for its more traditional uses.

On the downside, Ketamine has found a place on the recreational drug scene and seems to have a depersonalising affect which, when taken orally can last for as long as two hours.


Ketamine is recognised as extremely safe when administered by medical professionals but very dangerous when used casually – those medical degrees aren’t just for show!

But now we have another legitimate use for Ketamine as a treatment for depression and it seems to be showing promise in people who have found their symptoms resistant to traditional and modern antidepressants such as Prozac and Citalopram. But here at MHD we need the evidence not the speculation.

A 2013 study of 24 participants with treatment resistant depression showed some promise when given intravenous infusions of Ketamine. Most people in this small research programme responded very quickly to the medication but did begin to experience symptoms again after as little as 30 days from study start or 18 days after the last dose was given. It is worth noting here that the medication wasn’t still being administered at this point, those involved having received up to 6 infusions during the first 12 days.

A further study in 2016 began to examine the efficacy of Ketamine when given orally which is clearly a better option for most people. Although limited, this research did show promise, highlighting a fast response to the medication and some continued positive changes, albeit the study was limited to 21 days. The people taking part in this trial were all considered to be treatment resistant and most tolerated the new medication very well.

One danger to be aware of with any news like this and certainly something we want our readers at Mind Health Development to be mindful of are those linked with self-medicating. As identified above, this drug can be very dangerous when not medically supervised and people who have tried to buy it on the street for treating their own low mood have reported bladder problems which included blood in the urine, incontinence and pain whilst passing water and increases in anxiety! Worth remembering here as well is that most people will usually react extremely well with a more traditional approach which any GP can advise upon and prescribe if appropriate. The big news about Ketamine is for treatment resistant patients – those few people who don’t respond well to the more widely understood medicines.

That being said, many of those medicines do take quite a while to work, about four to six weeks, and Ketamine might, in the future, fill a gap when people are feeling at their worst as quick response has been a notable feature in many of the drug trials.

Ketamine is exciting news but probably won’t be the holy grail of depression treatments. It may well be that if it ever becomes widely used it might only be with people in hospital or for day case patients. However, with neurologists now able to view via MRI scanning technologies how drugs affect the brain and exactly what changes occur during drug use it might open new avenues into medicine research whilst giving another option even if only for a few people.

For more information on depression you might be interested in our other articles found here and here.

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All the very best from MHD

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