'Game changing' drug could be effective in suicide prevention

June 11, 2014 by Susi Hamilton, University of New South Wales
'Game changing' drug could be effective in suicide prevention
Professor Colleen Loo. Photo: Grant Turner, Mediakoo

(Medical Xpress)—A drug traditionally used as an anaesthetic and sometimes used recreationally could be effective in preventing suicide and lifting the mood of severely depressed patients, according to a UNSW academic who has trialled the drug in Sydney.

Ketamine, which has the street name 'special K', has been shown to be effective in most patients who were part of the trial, at least temporarily. The participants were suffering from Major Depressive Disorder and had exhausted all other medical treatments.

"This is a game-changer in treating depression," says UNSW Professor Colleen Loo, who is the lead author of a study published in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry. "The real advantage here is that the effect is almost instantaneous and that it appears to work on the majority of patients."

Traditional anti-depressants can take up to eight weeks to become fully effective and even then, getting the right drug for a patient is a matter of trial and error.

"This could be of real benefit if a patient is suicidal, as it could help yank them out of that really dark place," says Professor Loo from UNSW's School of Psychiatry.

Another advantage is that can be used in combination with other anti-depressants, which may still be useful in helping maintain sleep and appetite.

"Ketamine powerfully reverses structural changes in the brain that occur when someone is depressed. In a sense, the treatment is repairing or reversing those changes," Professor Loo says.

A paper based on the study, Pilot dose-response trial of intravenous ketamine in treatment-resistant depression, shows that three of the four participants in the trial at Wesley Hospital in Sydney had an anti-depressant response after a single treatment session, although all relapsed within a week.

The paper is the first to look at administering different doses of ketamine and shows that in some cases, less of the drug may be needed than used in other . This would also decrease any temporary side-effects, such as altered perception and hallucinations.

"While this is a small trial, the results are significant," says Professor Loo. "These people are treatment resistant, so even a temporary reprieve is important."

Professor Loo's team has been trialling ketamine on 19 patients over the last three years. Her work builds on significant international research on the drug.

In another paper, Professor Loo and her team looked at a simpler ways of administering ketamine—under the skin's fatty tissue, which was also shown to be effective.

"We would like to do further work in this area to advance our early results," says Professor Loo. "We think there are so many people who could benefit relatively quickly, if this work is funded."

Explore further: 'Special K' could relieve depression

Related Stories

'Special K' could relieve depression

June 7, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Recreational drug and anaesthetic, ketamine, is being trialled in people with severe depression and is providing almost instant relief from symptoms, offering fresh hope of a quick new way to manage the ...

Research shows why ketamine is an effective antidepressant but memantine is not

May 27, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Ketamine is a fast-acting antidepressant. However, it can create symptoms that mimic psychosis. Therefore, doctors don't give it to depressed patients. Memantine, a similar drug, does not have psychotomimetic ...

Researchers look at therapeutic benefits of ketamine

May 1, 2013
The largest trial into the use of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) in the UK in more than 30 years will look into how the use of the Class C drug ketamine might reduce the side effects of ECT for those being treated for severe ...

Intranasal ketamine confers rapid antidepressant effect in depression

April 8, 2014
A research team from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai published the first controlled evidence showing that an intranasal ketamine spray conferred an unusually rapid antidepressant effect –within 24 hours—and ...

Anesthetic for depression? Study finds low-dose ketamine effective

June 4, 2013
Low-dose intravenous infusions of ketamine, a general anesthetic used in minor surgeries, given over a long period are an effective treatment for depression, Mayo Clinic researchers found. The study is published in the Journal ...

First UK study of ketamine for people with severe depression

April 2, 2014
The first UK study of the use of ketamine intravenous infusions in people with treatment-resistant depression has been carried out in an NHS clinic by researchers at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the University of ...

Recommended for you

Study: No evidence to support link between violent video games and behaviour

January 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

Study listens in on speech development in early childhood

January 15, 2018
If you've ever listened in on two toddlers at play, you might have wondered how much of their babbling might get lost in translation. A new study from the University of Toronto provides surprising insights into how much children ...

Study suggests people dislike you more for humblebragging than for regular boasting

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers from Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill has conducted a study regarding humblebragging—in which a person boasts about an achievement but tries to make it sound less boastful by minimizing it—and ...

Study identifies brain circuit controlling social behavior

January 11, 2018
A new study by researchers at Roche in Basel, Switzerland has identified a key brain region of the neural circuit that controls social behavior. Increasing the activity of this region, called the habenula, led to social problems ...

Can writing your 'to-do's' help you to doze? Study suggests jotting down tasks can speed the trip to dreamland

January 11, 2018
Writing a "to-do" list at bedtime may aid in falling asleep, according to a Baylor University study. Research compared sleep patterns of participants who took five minutes to write down upcoming duties versus participants ...

Tamper-resistant oxycodone tablets have no impact on overall opioid use

January 11, 2018
The introduction of tamper-resistant opioid tablets does not have an effect on rates of opioid use or harms at a population level, according to a new study led by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wealthychef
not rated yet Jun 11, 2014
But the drug is used illegally. If we give it a legitimate use, how will we keep our prisons full?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.