The results from a clinical trial, the first conducted by a major drugs company, have shown that the use of ketamine to treat people who are suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts shows really strong promise.
It is important to note here that the form of the drug given to patients is not the same as that which you are likely to find on the streets and in the clubs. It is known officially as esketamine, and is part of the more familiar ketamine molecule.
One of the most significant features of this treatment is the speed at which it can help tackle severe depression and suicidal thoughts. It is hoped that it could act as a bridge between diagnosis and the time it takes for more conventional antidepressants to become effective, which can often take a few weeks.
This week saw the results of a phase two clinical trial published in the American Journal of Psychology, with incredibly promising signs. The researchers took 68 patients who were at high risk of suicide, all of whom were placed on antidepressants. Half of the group, however, were also given twice weekly nasal sprays of esketamine while the others received a placebo. The trial was double-blind, meaning that even the doctors administering the spray were unaware which was which.
The results seem to show that the treatment was pretty effective. Within just four hours, both the doctors and patients were reporting that those had received the esketamine showed improved signs, something that was still noticeable after 24 hours. After 25 days of treatment, all 68 patients were measured but they found no significant difference between the esketamine and placebo group, indicating that the more conventional antidepressants had kicked in by then.
While there were no cases reported of addiction or abuse of the drug during the trial, it has been recommended by some that this should be further investigated. According to Dr James Stone from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the results are “interesting”, and confirm the findings of other studies.
“The main reason for its significance is because this is being developed by a drug company and so it's potentially quite likely that this medication might become available as a treatment available on the NHS [the UK's national health service] for depression,” Dr Stone told the BBC.
The plan now is to move on to stage three trials, which will see more patients enrolled and tested. If the results continue to be as promising as they have been so far, then it might not be too long before we see esketamine being prescribed to treat severe depression.