Ketamine, an increasingly popular treatment for depression, works like an opioid to alleviate symptoms, according to a new study.
In the study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from Stanford University found that ketamine acts rapidly by activating the opioid system in the brain. Dr. David Wolfe, Head of Outpatient Services in Psychiatry at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said the new findings bring research a step further to learn more about the effects of using ketamine.
Wolfe explains that about one-third of people seeking treatment for depression do not respond to traditional medicine like Prozac, which is why they use ketamine. The drug is given via an intravenous infusion and can work within minutes, while other medicines take six to eight weeks to become effective. However, Wolfe said that it is only available through private practices and doctors are not sure if long-term use is safe.
"The mechanisms of ketamine and how it works in depression are still poorly understood, and the study shows how much more we need to learn," Wolfe said.
The results of the study showed that the antidepressant effect of ketamine is insufficient to help the patient without activating the opioid receptors in the brain.
Ketamine has not been approved for the treatment of depression and is therefore not insured. Wolfe said that treatment can cost hundreds of dollars, and the effects of treatment usually subside in about a week. He explained that ketamine has been abused in the past and there is always a risk of abuse if a drug is used repeatedly.
When it comes to the risk of addiction, Wolfe says that there is not enough research to know for sure if patients may be dependent on ketamine treatments. He said the drug is also helpful in treating patients with suicidal thoughts and is often used in the emergency room for suicidal patients.
"I think in the field (study) challenges us to take a step back and ask the question" What are our medications doing? "Wolfe said.