According to a new study that was conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and published online in the December 3 issue of Biological Psychiatry, an experimental drug is being hailed as a “friendlier version of ketamine” and may be able to help ease the symptoms of depression in minutes.

During this randomized crossover study, researchers found that a single infusion of AZD6765 helped nearly 32 percent of patients with their major depressive disorder (MDD). While the experimental drug only decreased the patient’s depression scores for 30 minutes, some patients did report that their symptoms had abated for up to 2 days. AZD6765 works a lot like the way ketamine does in the brain. The best part in the researchers’ eyes is that the experimental drug did not seem to cause any of the treatment-induced psychotomimetic side effects that ketamine poses.

“One infusion of a low dose of the medication resulted in rapid effects within 2 hours compared with many weeks for many of our current treatments,” lead author Carlos A. Zarate Jr., MD, chief of the Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch at the NIMH in Bethesda, Maryland, told Medscape Medical News. “In addition, those who responded had tried many of our medications. This proved that rapid antidepressant effects can be done in very sick people within a very short period of time. This could have a real impact on public health.”

More work is needed in order to confirm these findings, but researchers are hopeful. Depression is often treated with antidepressant medications like Paxil. The serious side effects linked to Paxil can be dangerous for both the patient and the people around them — including their unborn offspring. Paxil has been linked to violent and suicidal thoughts and behavior as well as birth defects (spina bifida, PPHN, oral clefts, neural tube defects) in babies whose mothers take Paxil during pregnancy.