A staple in emergency rooms and veterinary hospitals, the mind-altering drug called ketamine is now being hailed as a revolutionary treatment for those battling severe depression.
You've probably already heard of ketamine: a notorious date-rape drug known for its power to quickly render someone immobile, it's known in the rave community as Special K, and has been around since the early 1960s. It's also a basic anesthetic in emergency rooms (regularly used for broken bones), burn centers, and veterinary hospitals.
Now, scientists are advocating a new use for this age-old drug. Over the last ten years, studies have reported that ketamine can reverse the kind of severe depression that traditional antidepressants often can't handle. Ketamine not only produces a rapid and robust antidepressant effect; it also puts a quick end to suicidal thinking. Traditional antidepressants and mood stabilizers, by comparison, can take weeks or months to work.
Experts are calling it the most significant advance in mental health in more than half a century, and as of this month, the momentum behind the drug has reached the American Psychiatric Association, which may soon endorse the drug for use in treating severe depression.
Despite the fact that the drug is not yet FDA approved for use in depression treatment, Kaiser Permanente in Northern California—along with several other facilities in the state—has already begun offering ketamine treatments for those battling severe depression.
“This is the next big thing in psychiatry,” said L. Alison McInnes, a San Francisco psychiatrist who has enrolled 58 severely depressed patients in Kaiser’s San Francisco clinic over the past year. She's seen a long-term success rate of 60 percent for people with treatment-resistant depression who try the drug, which has persuaded Kaiser to expand treatment to two other clinics in the Bay Area.
While ketamine treatments are still very expensive, the results may speak for themselves.
After using the drug to treat his depression, Brent Miles told Vice, "I felt normal for the first time in a long time."