Despite “Flurry of Interest,” Ketamine Remains Unproven For Depression
In 2014, then National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) director, Thomas Insel, speculated that ketamine “might be the most important breakthrough in antidepressant treatment in decades.” A recent review of the research suggests that while ketamine may produce a rapid short-term improvement in depression, the effect is short-lived and the potential for addiction and dependence warrants considerable caution.
Ketamine was developed in 1962 and came into regular use in the 1970s as a fast-acting anesthetic for use on the battlefield in Vietnam. Soldiers realized that the drug produced an “out-of-body” experience that some found uncomfortable and its use in medical settings decreased. By the 1980s, however, ketamine began to be used as a recreational drug and, as a result, the US federal government added ketamine to the list of schedule III controlled substances in 1999.
In an article published in this month’s American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers led by Dr. Jeffrey Newport review randomized control trials on the use of the drug ketamine for depression. They note that ketamine, also known as the street drug “special K,” has been met with a “flurry of interest.” This interest, they write, is largely driven by the fact that currently available antidepressants have “less than optimal efficacy.” This problem is compounded by the fact the search for alternative antidepressant compounds has been “remarkably unsuccessful” over the past decade.