Studies on the popular anesthetic ketamine have found that the drug can be used as a treatment for depression. This news has some experts suggesting that the drug may be able to safely replace harsh antidepressants like Paxil and Effexor in the future. Ketamine is a popular club drug that goes by the street name “Special K.”
“This could really be a game-changer,” said James W. Murrough, an assistant professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which has several ketamine studies under way. “There is a real need for something that works quickly.”
The drug is classified as a hallucinogenic because of its mind-altering capabilities. Ketamine, which was used during the Vietnam War as an anesthetic, contains the same chemical properties that make magic mushrooms alter human perception. The drug has been studied since the 1960s for its potential psychological benefits. However, now that doctors are better informed about the brain’s capabilities, the drug’s real potential is being explored in terms of how it can help treat some psychological conditions, such as depression.
So far, tests conducted on animals are showing that ketamine can help brain nerve cells grow. These nerve cells are responsible for learning abilities and memory. The drug is also showing signs that it can alleviate some of the symptoms of depression and immediate suicidal tendencies.
“There is really no medical intervention for acute suicidality, which is a medical and psychiatric emergency,” said Mount Sinai’s Murrough, who is running a trial to investigate the drug’s potential to prevent suicide. “It’s a huge unmet need.”
Should the ketamine prove to prevent suicides in severely depressed patients, antidepressants like Paxil and Effexor could become obsolete. This would be a huge advancement in depression treatment since those medications are potentially dangerous to those who use them. Both Paxil and Effexor (among others) are known to cause depressed patients to experience violent and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. They can also be dangerous to babies born to mothers who take the drugs while pregnant. Babies born to mother taking SSRIs like Paxil or Effexor can be born with birth defects, including PPHN, oral clefts, spina bifida and neural tube defects.