Popular 'club drug' could help treat depression

Researchers say ketamine may dramatically change your state of mind

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - One in ten adults in the United States suffers from depression. For many, the symptoms are debilitating and the current treatments just don't work.

Researchers say a drug that's used in hospitals and abused on the streets may dramatically change your state of mind.

In hospitals, it's a commonly used anesthetic. In the clubs, ketamine, also known as  Special K, is a popular hallucinogenic drug, but what can make ketamine truly "special" for millions of people, is its potential to, quickly and effectively, treat chronic depression.

"It has been one of the major new findings in the field for at least a few decades," said Dr. Gerard Sanacora, MD., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Depression Research Program.

Unlike standard antidepressants, which can take weeks or months to work, Yale researchers say ketamine can improve your mood in hours, "by reconnecting brain regions and allowing proper control of mood and emotion," said Dr. Ron S. Duman, Ph.D., at Yale University School of Medicine.

Even for treatment-resistant patients. However, researchers are still figuring out how to safely administer ketamine as a routine treatment. "It's not strongly addictive, but it does have high abuse potential," Duman said.

While ketamine is currently not FDA-approved for depression, a growing number of private clinics across the country are offering it "off label." Sanacora is concerned.

"There are several very important questions that we still don't know about ketamine and probably the most important is what is the long term benefit? Is repeating dosing of this actually a good idea," he said.

Doctors say the fast-acting quality of ketamine can help save lives of those in danger of committing suicide. Infusions at the private ketamine clinics can run you thousands of dollars, with no guarantee of any results; they're also not covered by insurance.   

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