Ketamine for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Clinical trials suggest the drug’s potential, sparking hope for those facing treatment challenges.

March 06, 2024
Dr. Kelan Thomas stands in a hall with a cork board lined with research papers, holding one of his studies

Depression, a pervasive mental health condition affecting millions worldwide, has been historically challenging to treat, especially when conventional therapies prove ineffective

New clinical trials offer a glimmer of hope in the form of ketamine, a medication initially recognized for its anesthetic properties but now gaining attention for its potential in alleviating treatment-resistant depression.

“In the 1970’s researchers started to notice antidepressant effects in animal models, but it wasn’t really consistently studied in randomized controlled trials for depression until about 2000’s by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funded researchers,” says psychiatric pharmacist and faculty member in the Touro University California (TUC) College of Pharmacy Dr. Kelan Thomas.

According to Thomas, studies exploring ketamine's efficacy in depression treatment show encouraging results. Approximately 50-70% of individuals undergoing ketamine therapy for depression report a substantial reduction in symptoms within the first week of treatment. This swift response stands out, particularly for individuals grappling with treatment-resistant depression and its enduring effects.

Beyond its impact on depression, Thomas says that ongoing clinical trials are shedding light on ketamine's broader therapeutic potential. Studies suggest its efficacy in addressing anxiety, managing pain, and even aiding in certain substance use disorders. This expanding scope underscores ketamine's versatility in psychiatric care beyond its initial focus on depression.

When doctors use ketamine to help with depression, they often give it to patients through an IV drip for about 40 minutes, explained Thomas. However, some clinics prefer other ways of administering, like an injection, nasal spray, or lozenge that dissolves under the tongue. Different clinics have their own preferences, and some combine ketamine treatment with therapy sessions, believing that it can work even better alongside counseling.

“In the dosage range used for depression there have not been any dangerous drug-drug interactions, but benzodiazepines have consistently reduced the effectiveness of ketamine therapy,” says Thomas. Commonly known by their brand names, benzodiazepines include medications like Valium, Xanax, Halcion, and Ativan.

While ketamine holds promise as a treatment for depression, Thomas cautions that further research is crucial to delineate its long-term efficacy, safety, and optimal administration methods. Nevertheless, its rapid onset of action and potential to provide relief for those resistant to traditional therapies herald a new frontier in mental health treatment.