Depression is one of the most pervasive medical issues in modern society. Over 260 million people worldwide will experience depression in the given year. In fact, it is the world’s number one cause of disability (WHO, 2020). While treatments for depression have advanced significantly in the past 60 years, 15-33% of patients do not respond well to traditional treatments (Little, 2021). For this reason, scientists have been doing everything they can to find newer and better treatments for individuals struggling with Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD). There are several different treatments that have arisen in the past 20 years that have shown promise in their ability to provide relief for individuals with TRD. Today we are going to break down ketamine.
Ketamine is a strong dissociative drug. Historically, it has been used as an anesthetic for both humans and animals (Morgan & Curran, 2011). Recently, ketamine has been tested as a therapeutic for individuals with TRD. Ketamine works in several ways to provide rapid (generally within 24 hours of treatment) and sustained (lasting up to two weeks post treatment) antidepressant effects (Yang et al., 2015).
Ketamine is thought to work by many complicated and converging mechanisms, involving widespread decreases in neuronal activity, in addition to targeted increase of neuromodulators, gene expression, and neuronal remodeling (Sleigh et al., 2014).
Ketamine as a treatment for depression is still in its infancy. As of right now the treatments are prohibitively expensive and while the data is promising, it is not the magic bullet that I often see it referred to as in the media. More research needs to be done on long-term effects and efficacy to better understand the ins and outs of the drug. That said, this is an exciting development in modern psychopharmacology. Importantly, every day we are making advances in our treatment options for depression!