Doctors studying depression and the ways of preventing suicide have recently discovered that low doses of ketamine, an anesthetic and psychedelic drug, relieves people of suicidal thoughts in as quickly as 24 hours. In a study conducted in the US, depressed subjects who were given an infusion of ketamine expressed relief from harmful impulses after a few hours.
The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was conducted on 80 clinically depressed subjects who volunteered for the trial in New York State Psychiatric Institute. All of them had active suicidal thoughts and 43 of them were taking anti-depressants for their condition.
The subjects were randomly given either low doses of ketamine or the sedative midazolam as a control measure. Even on the first day, the ketamine patients showed positive response to the treatment and experienced fewer suicidal thoughts than the control group. Doctors have observed that this may be due to the drug's effect on depression or direct influence over relieving their ideation.
The study went on for six weeks, which is the ideal time-period for a psychiatric treatment. Throughout this time, a reduction was seen in suicidal thoughts, so much that the control group was also given ketamine after a few weeks, after which they also showed positive results.
"It does suggest ketamine treatment can help someone who's in a really serious suicidal state get out of that quickly. Certainly, it would be a relatively simple treatment to provide at hospitals," study author Michael Grunebaum, associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, told Gizmido.
Grunebaum is currently hoping to study the brains of patients treated with ketamine for depression, to figure out how exactly the drug helps in reducing suicidal thoughts. As of now, ketamine is not an approved chemical to treat depression as it has major side-effects.
When taken in higher doses, the drug is addictive and can cause hallucinations. Frequent usage may also cause issues with memory, coma and even death. Additionally, there are problems with its usage as a conventional drug as currently, it can only be given through an injection or catheter. Nasal spray versions are in development.
This drug comes at a time when, in 2016, the US has recorded the highest suicide rate in 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the currently available drugs and therapy show little effect in sustained remission.