Updated 07 April 2020

Could a party drug be the new treatment for depression?

Although ketamine shows promise, not enough is known about the drug's long-term effects.

There are more than 30 different kinds of antidepressants on the market, and with more than 300 million people worldwide suffering from depression it’s often a challenge to find the right cocktail of drugs. And according to a recent Time article, 30% of people do not respond to standard antidepressant treatment. 

Now there's new hope as ketamine, also known as Special K on the party scene, has shown some promise as a treatment for depression. But researchers aren't yet ready to recommend it because its long-term effects remain unknown.

A previous Health24 article also discusses the use of ketamine for treating depression. Although not commonly used to treat depression, more and more Americans are using this anaesthetic drug for this purpose.  

More research needed

Unfortunately, there is not enough research to just indicate effectiveness. There is a knowledge gap that must be filled before ketamine can be widely used to treat depression, said Colleen Loo, co-author of a new research review. She's a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Ketamine is increasingly being used off-label to treat severe and treatment-resistant depression. And some preliminary findings suggest rapid-acting effectiveness, Loo said. But "this has not been effectively explored over the long term and after repeated dosing," she added in a university news release.

Various studies examined

Loo and her colleagues examined 60 published studies of ketamine treatment for depression, involving a total of nearly 900 patients. The investigators found few studies reported on the safety of repeated doses or sustained use of the drug.

"As ketamine treatment will likely involve multiple and repeated doses over an extended time period, it is crucial to determine whether the potential side effects outweigh the benefits to ensure it is safe for this purpose," she explained. The review was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Negative side-effects

Past research has linked longer-term ketamine use to bladder inflammation, liver damage, memory loss and addiction. These potential troubles "may limit the safe use of ketamine as a long-term antidepressant treatment," the review authors wrote. There are also other side-effects:

  • As the drug wears off, it can cause muscle-trembling and high blood pressure.
  • It can cause incontinence and urinary tract problems.
  • It can cause a dry mouth, vomiting, nausea and a heightened sense of paranoia.

If you suffer from depression, consult your medical doctor or psychiatrist for a proper treatment plan. Never experiment with different drugs.


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