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New Study Shows Relief from Depression in Hours

August 10, 2006

For people with treatment resistant depression, there’s reason for new hope.  A recently released study shows that small doses of ketamine injected in treatment resistant patients can provide relief from depression in as little as two hours.  Ketamine is traditionally used as an anesthetic in humans and animals.  Patients reported that the positive effects of the single dose of ketamine also had staying power -- 71 percent reported a major improvement in mood a day after, and 35 percent still felt better a week later.  In contrast, current antidepressant medications take between four to six weeks before patients report improvements in mood.  The results are also significant because ketamine targets a brain chemical called glutamate rather than the usual targets of antidepressants and may help researchers better understand a new mechanism for treating depression.

Although the study’s results are impressive, ketamine is unlikely to be widely used as a new treatment because of potential side effects when taken at a higher dose.  And, the study’s sample of treatment resistant patients was very small – just 18 people.  However, researchers do anticipate that the study will spur interest in the development of new treatments that are faster and longer-acting than current medications.  According to Thomas Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, the study’s results "raise the bar on what we can expect of antidepressant treatments" and "redefines success [in depression treatment] not in terms of weeks, but in terms of hours."  The study was published in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Read more about the study from the Boston Globe.

Read the press release from the National Institute of Mental Health.