The effects of ketamine were also felt more rapidly, just hours after intake.
A Breakthrough In Suicide Prevention
Despite suicide being a topic for which breakthrough are hard to come by, doctors have become increasingly convinced that low doses of ketamine, which is used mainly as an anesthetic or a psychedelic drug, might be effective for treating depressed people who have suicidal thoughts.
The study, published earlier this December in the American Journal of Psychiatry, involves patients who reported being relieved from suicidal thoughts in as little as a few hours after they received ketamine.
Researchers gathered 80 volunteers who were clinically depressed and were asked to participate in a randomized trial. They all had suicidal thoughts, and received either midazolam or a low dose of ketamine. The researchers tracked their behavior for six weeks as they proceeded to undergo standard psychiatric treatment.
What Happened When The Patients Took Ketamine
The participants who took ketamine better responded to treatment and were having decreased suicidal thoughts than the control group. This was the result of ketamine improving their depression, but it also seemed to directly affect their suicidal ideation. More importantly, this decrease apparently lasted the full six weeks, most likely because of the added treatment the participants were getting.
"There is a critical window in which depressed patients who are suicidal need rapid relief to prevent self-harm," said Michael Grunebaum, the study's lead author. "Suicidal, depressed patients need treatments that are rapidly effective in reducing suicidal thoughts when they are at highest risk," noting that existing antidepressants can take weeks before they yield any effect.
There's currently no treatment for rapidly relieving suicidal thoughts in those who suffer from depression, said Grunebaum. Worse, antidepressant medical trials often do not include people with suicidal thoughts, which makes it quite hard to assess whether antidepressants work to stop their ideation.
But with low doses of ketamine, doctors might be reaching a new breakthrough in helping to stop suicidal thoughts. The people infused with ketamine not only had reduced thoughts of suicide, they also had better moods overall, felt less depressed, and felt more awake compared with the participants who took midazolam.
Is Ketamine An Effective Treatment For Depression?
This isn't the first study to show evidence of ketamine's effects. In many studies over the years, around 50 to 60 percent of people had responded to the drug, according to Grunebaum.
Still, that doesn't mean people should start seeing ketamine as a miracle drug. While patients were found to be responsive to it, its effects only lasted for about a week, and it's not approved to treat depression, for now.
Moving forward, Grunebaum and his team of researchers hope to receive additional funding to study the brains of people taking ketamine to better understand what might be occurring when the drug is infused, and why it decreases suicidal thoughts.