- Ketamine controls the transmission of electrical signals in nerve cells in rodents
- Other antidepressants change brain chemical levels, which can take months
- If ketamine has the same effect in humans, it could offer a faster alternative
- Ketamine is a Schedule III drug in the US and a class B in the UK
- It can be prescribed by doctors as a general anaesthetic in humans and animals
The illegal party drug ketamine could ease depression in just 30 minutes, new research suggests.
The horse tranquiliser relieves the mental health disorder by preventing brain signals ‘overfiring’, a Chinese study found.
Unlike other antidepressants, which change brain chemical levels and can take months to have an effect, ketamine controls the transmission of electrical signals via nerve cells in rodents, the research adds.
If the drug has the same effect in humans, it could treat the mental health disorder much faster than currently-available medications, according to the researchers.
Ketamine is a Schedule III drug in the US and a class B in the UK. It can legally be prescribed by doctors as a general anaesthetic in humans and animals.
The illegal party drug ketamine could ease depression in just 30 minutes (stock)
IS DEPRESSION A PHYSICAL ILLNESS?
Depression is a physical illness that could be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, a Cambridge University professor stated in September 2017.
An overactive immune system may trigger the mental health condition by causing widespread inflammation that leads to feelings of hopelessness and unhappiness, the expert believes.
The immune system may fail to ‘switch off’ after an illness or traumatic event, he adds.
Previous research has shown people who suffer severe emotional trauma have signs of inflammation, which suggests their immune system is constantly ‘fired-up’.
Professor Ed Bullmore, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘In relation to mood, beyond reasonable doubt, there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms.
‘In experimental medicine studies if you treat a healthy individual with an inflammatory drug, like interferon, a substantial percentage of those people will become depressed,’ The Telegraph reported.
Ketamine blocks nerve signal barraging
More specifically, the results reveal ketamine works to block ‘neural bursting’, which occurs when groups of nerves fire signals as a barrage rather than a slow pulse.
The researchers, from Zhejiang University, also found the drug is only effective at relieving depression symptoms in rodents if specific receptors and channels are activated.
The findings were published in the journal Nature.
Ketamine improves people’s sleep and interest
This comes after research released by the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, in August 2017 suggested patients who respond to ketamine have greater overall activity levels days after its infusion.
This could benefit depressed patients as such episodes are partially characterised by a reduced interest in activities.
Responsive patients also sleep better the following day, the research adds.
Those who do more activities prior to ketamine’s infusion have more favorable outcomes, which suggests doctors can predict patients who will respond to the drug.
Dr John Krystal, editor of the journal Biological Psychiatry, where the study was published, said: ‘It would be nice if daily patterns of activity could be used clinically to identify people who might respond to ketamine and to monitor clinical improvement.’