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UK Study Finds Ketamine Could Treat Severe Depression

Update Date: Apr 03, 2014 09:30 AM EDT

Ketamine is a drug that is used in human anesthesia and veterinary medicine. On the streets, however, ketamine is used illegally to create dream-like states and hallucinations. Several studies in the past have examined the effects of this party drug on depression and found that the drug has the potential to treat the mental illness. In a new study out of the United Kingdom, researchers conducted the first trial within the country and discovered that ketamine was capable of curing severe cases of major depressive disorder.

The research team recruited 28 patients who have been suffering from incurable depression. Some of them had been living with depression for over 20 years. The patients were given either three or six low doses of the drug over the time span of three weeks. Each drug infusion lasted around 40 minutes. A few days after the last dose, participants took a memory test. They also reported their symptoms every day using text or email.

Eight of the patients reported experiencing improvements in their depressive symptoms with half of them no longer being grouped as depressed. A few of the patients had responded to the drug within the first few hours.

"It really is dramatic for some people, it's the sort of thing really that makes it worth doing psychiatry, it's a really wonderful thing to see," lead researcher Dr. Rupert McShane said according to BBC News.

Despite the initial effects of the drug, the researchers reported that some patients relapsed within a few days while others, who continued to take the drug, felt improvements for three months. The team also noted one major side effect: the drug could stop blood supply to the brain.

"We've seen remarkable changes in people who've had severe depression for many years that no other treatment has touched. It's very moving to witness," McShane said reported by FOX News. "We now need to build up clinical experience with ketamine in a small number of carefully monitored patients. By trying different infusion regimes and adding other licensed drugs, we hope to find simple ways to prolong its dramatic effect."

The study was published in the Journal of Pharmacology.

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