Suicidal thoughts rapidly reduced with ketamine, finds study

December 14, 2017, Columbia University Medical Center
3-D model of Ketamine. Credit: Wikipedia

Ketamine was significantly more effective than a commonly used sedative in reducing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). They also found that ketamine's anti-suicidal effects occurred within hours after its administration.

The findings were published online last week in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates in the U.S. increased by 26.5 percent between 1999 and 2015.

"There is a critical window in which who are suicidal need rapid relief to prevent self-harm," said Michael Grunebaum, MD, a research psychiatrist at CUMC, who led the study. "Currently available antidepressants can be effective in reducing in with depression, but they can take weeks to have an effect. Suicidal, depressed patients need treatments that are rapidly effective in reducing suicidal thoughts when they are at highest risk. Currently, there is no such treatment for rapid relief of suicidal thoughts in depressed patients."

Most antidepressant trials have excluded patients with suicidal thoughts and behavior, limiting data on the effectiveness of antidepressants in this population. However, previous studies have shown that low doses of ketamine, an anesthetic drug, causes a rapid reduction in depression symptoms and may be accompanied by a decrease in suicidal thoughts.

The 80 depressed adults with clinically significant suicidal thoughts who enrolled in this study were randomly assigned to receive an infusion of low-dose ketamine or midazolam, a sedative. Within 24 hours, the ketamine group had a clinically significant reduction in suicidal thoughts that was greater than with the midazolam group. The improvement in suicidal thoughts and depression in the ketamine group appeared to persist for up to six weeks.

Those in the ketamine group also had greater improvement in overall mood, depression, and fatigue compared with the midazolam group. Ketamine's effect on depression accounted for approximately one-third of its effect on suicidal thoughts, suggesting the treatment has a specific anti-suicidal effect.

Side effects, mainly dissociation (feeling spacey) and an increase in blood pressure during the infusion, were mild to moderate and typically resolved within minutes to hours after receiving ketamine.

"This study shows that ketamine offers promise as a rapidly acting for reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with ," said Dr. Grunebaum. "Additional research to evaluate 's antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects may pave the way for the development of new antidepressant medications that are faster acting and have the potential to help individuals who do not respond to currently available treatments."

The study is titled, "Ketamine for Rapid Reduction of Suicidal Thoughts in Major Depression: A Midazolam-Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial."

Explore further: Intravenous ketamine may rapidly reduce suicidal thinking in depressed patients

Related Stories

Intravenous ketamine may rapidly reduce suicidal thinking in depressed patients

May 10, 2016
Repeat intravenous treatment with low doses of the anesthetic drug ketamine quickly reduced suicidal thoughts in a small group of patients with treatment-resistant depression. In their report receiving Online First publication ...

Ketamine improved bipolar depression within minutes

May 30, 2012
Bipolar disorder is a serious and debilitating condition where individuals experience severe swings in mood between mania and depression. The episodes of low or elevated mood can last days or months, and the risk of suicide ...

Researchers studying use of nitrous oxide for patients hospitalized for suicide risk

November 10, 2017
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are studying the use of nitrous oxide—laughing gas—as a treatment for patients who are hospitalized due to suicidal thoughts. They are investigating ...

Treating depression—an expert discusses risks, benefits of ketamine

October 20, 2017
Up to a third of patients with depression don't respond to traditional forms of treatment. For those patients, the dark fog that hovers over their lives feels like it will never lift. But a new treatment called ketamine has ...

Researchers studying ketamine as suicide prevention drug

March 27, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers think ketamine, an anesthesia medication in use since the 1970s, might be a valuable tool in treating severe depression and reducing suicidal urges; ...

Recommended for you

Are you prone to feeling guilty? Then you're probably more trustworthy, study shows

July 19, 2018
It turns out your mother was right: guilt is a powerful motivator.

Perfectionism in young children may indicate OCD risk

July 19, 2018
Studying young children, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that kids who possess tendencies toward perfectionism and excessive self-control are twice as likely as other children to ...

Finding well-being through an aerial, as opposed to ground-level, view of time

July 19, 2018
Do today and yesterday and tomorrow loom large in your thinking, with the more distant past and future barely visible on the horizon? That's not unusual in today's time-pressed world—and it seems a recipe for angst.

Younger children tend to make more informed decisions

July 19, 2018
A new study from the University of Waterloo has found that in some ways, the older you get the worse your decision making becomes.

Using an electronic device counteracts benefits of taking a break in nature, researchers find

July 19, 2018
Being in nature helps restore your brain's ability to focus attention on a task. But if you are checking social media on your phone or answering emails on your laptop – even if you are doing so while surrounded by trees ...

Depression-induced inflammation during pregnancy may impact newborns

July 18, 2018
The physiological impacts of depression on pregnant mothers may affect babies while in the womb and lead to changes in the behaviour and biology of newborns, finds new King's College London research.

0 comments

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.