Ketamine for Depression: Cure or Temporary Fix?

It is common knowledge that some recreational drugs can have positive health effects. Marijuana, for instance, is legally used for medicinal purposes. Now ketamine may be about to acquire a similar status as the drug, which is known to be illegally used at clubs and parties sometimes, is said to have actual health benefits, particularly for the treatment of depression.

A study dated as far back as 2006 brought the possibility to the table when it used ketamine intravenously to treat patients who suffered from depression but resisted most conventional meds. A little more than 70% of these subjects saw their symptoms greatly relieved with only a single dose of the “club drug”. Similarly, a study performed on bipolar disorder subjects in 2010 reported that their symptoms were alleviated in as little as 40 minutes, suggesting that ketamine acts faster and is often more effective than regular antidepressants.

Ketamine_ for_depressionKetamine might be more than just a quick fix though. Further research performed on mice shows that a by-product of the drug stays in the body for days after the drug is administered, allowing the symptom relief to last for up to a full week.

But while this data seems quite encouraging, the American Psychiatric Association raises some concerns about the use of ketamine in the treatment of depression, stating that the research available focuses on immediate and short-term symptom relief only. The Association cautions that the drug's long-term effects and safety have yet to be thoroughly researched, and that it isn't thus ready to be considered as a valid treatment option for patients suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.

In fact, some research suggests that chronic or continued use of ketamine might actually present risks to the health of patients, as the drug has been linked to heart and bladder conditions in the past. Moreover, data has also shown that, while occasional users only experience positive effects from the drug, those who indulge in the use of ketamine more frequently may end up suffering from memory loss, cognitive impairment and delusions — quite common side effects for those who use recreational drugs abusively.

Speaking of substance abuse, one must never forget that ketamine is also addictive. This means that by treating mood disorders with this drug, psychiatrists would in fact be replacing one problem with another. And that is perhaps the biggest and most important reason why ketamine is not a generally accepted option for treating depression.

Of course that doesn't keep opportunists from trying to make a profit of the promise to cure depression with ketamine, so patients should definitely be wary of any clinics offering this course of treatment, as it is yet to be properly studied and approved.

Alexandr Sedishev