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Ketamine may be used to treat depression

17th December 2013

According to the mental health foundation, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem during the course of the year.

For many, a course of talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can often result in recovery, but for others antidepressant drugs are prescribed. In some instances, patients do not respond to conventional antidepressant drugs – this is known as treatment-resistant depression.

A patient’s depression is considered treatment-resistant when at least two conventional antidepressants have been tried without success. Whilst multiple different strategies exist to deal with treatment-resistant depression, there are not wholly effective treatments.

Ketamine has been shown to lead to rapid and sustained antidepressant relief in treatment-resistance patients (Zarate et al, 2006). However, methodological limitations in studies to date have made it impossible to determine whether ketamine really is an antidepressant drug.

A new ground-breaking study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has gone some way to addressing the shortcomings of previous research (Murrough et al, 2013).


The test had 72 patients who were given ketamine or a placebo in a fair test and examined for 24 hours before being measured with a standardised depression rating scale. The response rate to ketamine was 64% versus 28% for the placebo.

Conclusions & Limitations

A single low dose of ketamine had a rapid-onset antidepressant effect compared to the placebo. Ketamine appears to be safe and an effective antidepressant although as little is known about long term effects, it is most likely to be useful for severe psychotic cases after careful screening.

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