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Ketamine For Depression: Is It Safe?

First Posted: Mar 21, 2017 06:53 AM EDT
Depression
Ketamine can save patients with depression, but how safe is it? (Image for representation only.)
(Photo : Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Around 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. In the United States alone, it is believed that in 2015, nearly 7 percent of adults have had at least one major depressive episode.

In this day and age, treatments like antidepressants and psychotherapy exist. However, that does not mean that everyone can get help. In fact, those with severe depression who entertain suicidal thoughts are among those that have trouble finding the help that they need. Recently, a consensus statement from the members of the American Psychiatric Association found ketamine as an antidepressant that offers evidence of its rapid, robust but transient effects.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a few doctors prescribed low doses of the drug. But it is unclear how much should be given to a patient before it is considered dangerous. The effects of ketamine usually wear off after a few days or weeks, which means that patients need to repeat its use. While there are maintenance drugs for different kinds of sickness, it is not sure what the long-term effects of ketamine could be for a depressive person.

Medscape noted that it is unclear what it is about ketamine's composition that can trigger an antidepressant response in one day. Most other drugs usually need two weeks or longer to even make a difference. Because of this, doctors prescribe the drug with caution. Psychiatry Professor Gerard Sanacora of Yale University, in particular, offers these drugs to patients -- a decision that many of his peers question.

When asked about his decision to offer ketamine, he elaborated, "How could you not offer this treatment?" Patients that are likely to injure or kill themselves within a short period after they have tried standard treatments should have the opportunity to get the drug, he shared, as noted by NPR.

Sanacora also added that when depressed patients take ketamine, around 50 percent to 75 percent of them feel at least a bit better within one day. For families of these patients, this short, temporary relief could be enough to save the lives of their loved ones.

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