Why is ‘party drug’ ketamine such a powerful treatment for depression?

Ketamine Jonah M
Image credit: William Storey

In recent years, the party drug and anesthetic ketamine has been embraced as a rapidly-acting, if still off-label, medication for some cases of depression and suicidal ideation that don’t respond to other treatments. But there’s still much we don’t understand about how it actually works so quickly to treat the crippling disorder. A new study released [August 29] out of Stanford University suggests that at least some of ketamine’s mojo relies on the same brain receptors that opioid painkillers activate.

The researchers started with 12 volunteers who had treatment-resistant depression, and gave them ketamine infusions. Some volunteers, however, were randomly given an additional dose of naltrexone—an opioid that can block and reverse the effects of opioids—while others were only given an extra boost of a saline solution.

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Mirroring other ketamine studies, many volunteers in the saline placebo group quickly experienced relief from their depression, with more than half reporting at least a 90 percent reduction in their symptoms in the first three days post-infusion. But there was no improvement in those who had gotten naltrexone at the same time.

[B]etter understanding the complex nature of ketamine and opioids can only help us create new depression treatments. That might involve developing drugs that work on different receptors at once like ketamine, as well as drugs that can safely activate opioid receptors without triggering addiction.

Read full, original post: Scientists May Have Unlocked the Secret of How Ketamine Treats Depression So Quickly

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