Ketamine Could Do Wonders to Treatment-Resistant Depression in Just Hours, Study Shows

Research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has revealed that the drug ketamine could provide rapid relief to people with depression, including those that did not respond to other treatments, by working on negative thoughts.



Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects many millions of people across the globe. Now and then we hear of people taking drastic actions, including committing suicide, because of the condition.

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There are diverse treatment options available for people affected by this disorder. The sad news, however, is that some patients do not respond well to the available treatments.

This is why the results of this study are exciting. Researchers found that ketamine helped to update the negative thoughts or beliefs of some depressed people in as little as four hours. It improved symptoms rapidly.

Ketamine is commonly used as an anesthetic. Some people also use the drug for recreational purposes. However, researchers have yet to fully understand its use as an antidepressant.

Challenge of battling depression

In the United States alone, some 16 million people are believed to face depression every year. Patients typically exhibit symptoms such as worthlessness, despair, and emptiness. A person with this mood disorder is likely to often make statements such as, “There’s no hope,” “I am a failure,” or “I am unlovable.”

The researchers who conducted the current study noted that people suffering from depression do have negative self-perceptions. They also hold dismal views about the future and the things happening around them generally.

Read Also: McGill University Study Shows How Ketamine Treats Severe Forms of Depression

Positive evidence is often not enough to convince people faced with depression to drop their negative thoughts, researchers said. They would refuse to update their negative beliefs when presented with evidence that shows them as false.

Treatment typically involves medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. A major problem, however, is that some people do not respond as expected to these treatments.

Researchers have, therefore, continued to search for new, more effective ways to fight depression, especially the treatment-resistant type. Ketamine is one of the options that are now being explored as a way out.

Promising effects of ketamine

This study was an observational case-control one. The researchers were interested in seeing how ketamine could be of help to people with hard-to-treat depression. To do this, they recruited 56 participants that were split into treatment and control groups.

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One group included 26 subjects who had treatment-resistant depression (TRD) – these had failed to respond to at least two earlier treatments. The second group was made up of 30 control subjects.

Those in the treatment group were given three ketamine infusions in total over a week. They got their second infusion 48 hours after the first with the third coming five days after.

The researchers assessed the participants 24 hours before the first infusion. They did this again four hours after the first infusion and four hours following the third.

All the subjects were presented with different adverse events and asked to estimate their chances of facing them during their lifetime. The researchers then presented true-life information on the chances of these events occurring in the general population.

The team found that ketamine treatment led to negative belief updates in people with TRD. These subjects exhibited a greater tendency to positively update some negative thoughts.

This change was also linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms, the researchers noted.

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“Notably, patients started to show an optimism bias in belief updating 4 hours after [the] first single infusion,” said Dr. Liane Schmidt, a study author and researcher at France’s Inserm. “At one week of treatment, the optimist bias in belief updating correlated to the clinical antidepressant effect.”

However, while this study provides useful insight into how people with depression may benefit from ketamine, it does have its limitations. One is the small sample size and another is that it was not a randomized or blind study. Also, the participants got their usual antidepressants during the study, which lasted only about a week.

All the same, the research could help to expand treatment options for people with depression. We should not expect ketamine to take the place of other treatments but rather to complement them, especially for patients with TRD.


Evaluation of Early Ketamine Effects on Belief-Updating Biases in Patients With Treatment-Resistant Depression

Efficacy and Safety of Ketamine vs Electroconvulsive Therapy Among Patients With Major Depressive Episode. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis



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