Ketamine Trial Treating Depression
For the last 6 years, 101 patients with depression have been taking part in a trial to measure the effects of the Class B “party drug” ketamine on their symptoms. Ketamine is already used as an anaesthetic and can be prescribed by doctors as a painkiller. However if used recreationally (un-prescribed) it can carry a five year prison sentence.
The trial patients had all been undergoing treatment for their moderate to severe depression previously but nothing had worked. Of the 101 taking part since 2011, 42 have “felt better” since taking ketamine. Writing in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, Dr Rupert McShane – who led the trial – says tens of thousands of people who likewise have had no success with other treatments for their depression could also be helped by ketamine.
According to the charity Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point during the course of a year, but Dr McShane recommends setting up a national register of prescription ketamine users. This will help monitor the results and avoid misuse. He is concerned that without it, private clinics might start prescribing the drug without due diligence in their clinical checks, which is what is happening currently in the US.
The dosage used in the trial is much lower than that used as a party drug, and Dr McShane warns against self-medication, stating that, as a treatment for depression, ketamine is not a miracle cure and the benefits to patients are only achieved by repeating dosing.
Trial patient testimonies bear this out. One patient says: "I had felt so desperate I was going to end it all … ketamine treatment has enabled me to return to my job full-time. I still struggle at times but being able to work again has given me such a boost." Another patient, Helen, who has been taking the drug for 18 months, agrees: “The difference in my quality of life is incredible. [Before taking ketamine] I was in and out of hospital…now, there’s still a lot of work to be done but I feel like I have a tool, a weapon so I can fight off the demons in my head.”
Others in the medical community, commenting on the trial, are supportive of a roll-out. Dr Paul Keedwell of Cardiff University hailed it as “one of the most exciting discoveries in psychiatry for years.” But he also cautions against unlimited rollout without a registry: “More research is needed and having a registry allows researchers to share new findings, positive or negative."
Others on the profession are more guarded. Professor Allan Young, of The Royal College of Psychiatrists, warns: "Before ketamine can be recommended for use in clinical practice, extensive research is required to understand how to optimally use ketamine for Treating Depression." For psychiatry help contact Psychiatry Concierge.