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Ketamine Can Help Depression Patients: Study

Update Date: Oct 08, 2012 09:46 AM EDT

Popularly known as Special K among youngsters, Ketamine seems to be not just a club drug or an animal tranquilizer but an effective way to treat depression, a new study suggests.

According to a new research by scientists from Yale University, they may have figured out how Ketamine works to treat depression instantly.

"The rapid therapeutic response of ketamine in treatment-resistant patients is the biggest breakthrough in depression research in a half century," study author Dr. Ronald Duman, a professor of psychiatry, neurobiology and pharmacology at Yale School of Medicine, said in a press release.

Ketamine, which has a dissociative effect when used in large quantities, can cause hallucinations, dream like states and amnesia, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This state of dissociation is sometimes referred to as a "K-hole," reports CBS News.

There are studies conducted previously which have suggested that ketamine could give immediate relief to depression patients. However, this effect may not last for a long time.

According to the current study the effect may last for as less as a week to 10 days. Thus, the researchers of the current study aimed at finding out how the drug works, so that they could improve its efficacy and perhaps pave the way for similar compounds, the report said.

The researchers found that the drug, Ketamine, triggers the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain, which in turn stimulates the growth of synapses. Synapses- the spaces between nerve cells can be damaged due to chronic stress, but it seems, a single dose of ketamine can rapidly reverse the damage.

The mechanism that Ketamine follows, is very different from antidepressant medications, which work on neurotransmitters like serotonin.

One in three people taking antidepressants reportedly do not respond to the medicines in spite of taking them for months, say the researchers.

"It's exciting," Duman told NPR. "The hope is that this new information about ketamine is really going to provide a whole array of new targets that can be developed that ultimately provide a much better way of treating depression."

Their research is published in the journal, Science.

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