Ketamine – which has a reputation as a party drug – has “shown promise” as a quick treatment for major depression and suicidal tendencies, according to researchers.
The drug is licensed for use as an anesthetic, the BBC reports. Using ketamine via nasal spray led to “significant” improvements in depression in the first 24 hours after use, according to the study.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in London said it was a “significant” study that has brought ketamine “a step closer to being prescribed on the NHS.”
A team from the Janssen Research and Development, a Johnson and Johnson company, and Yale School of Medicine, conducted what is the first study into ketamine as a treatment for depression, spearheaded by a drug company.
The researchers looked at 68 people deemed at imminent risk of suicide, all of whom were treated with anti-depressants or admitted to the hospital. Half were given ketamine in the form of esketamine in a nasal spray, while the other half were given a placebo.
Those who used esketamine had a much bigger improvement in depression symptoms over the first four weeks of treatment, but at 25 days, the effects had evened out. This means the drug can offer an effective rapid treatment for people who are severely depressed and at impending risk of suicide. Ketamine could also help in the starting stages of treatment, since most anti-depressants take four to six weeks to take effect.
James Stone, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said,
The main reason for its significance is because this is being developed by a drug company and it’s potentially quite likely that this medication might become available as a treatment available on the NHS for depression.
The nasal spray is now going through phase three trials which it has to pass before it can be licensed for treatment.
The study is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.