Club drug to antidepressant

Ketamine, also known as Special K, is a drug frequently used as an anesthetic. The drug was developed in the 1960s and was intended for use as a pain reliever and mild anesthetic. It was not long before users discovered if you take enough ketamine it would result in a mind-altering experience.

Ketamine, while being a party drug, has a surprising effect on depressed individuals. The effect is that the drug, in many cases, can quickly relieve symptoms of depression. This makes ketamine special because unlike many commercial antidepressants, it doesn’t take weeks before users feel an impact. Many have reported an improved mood as soon as the following day after undergoing a single dose of the club drug. On top of its quick impact, it also manages to affect those whom standard antidepressants have never helped before.

Those looking to pick up ketamine as the cure-all for their depression needs will have to wait a while longer. It is unlikely that ketamine will be used to treat depression outside of clinical studies. There are a number of side effects associated with ketamine, including hallucinations, memory problems and addiction.

Graphic by Ashley Kincaid.

Much research has gone into trying to determine what it is about ketamine that makes it such an effective potential cure for depression. Researcher Carlos Zarate from the University of California, San Francisco believes that the way that current antidepressants work is like stopping a leak by shutting off the water. Ketamine plugs up the leak. Current antidepressants work by affecting the levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Ketamine affects glutamate, which is closer to the actual problem. It is believed that ketamine ultimately strengthens the connection of brain cells; scientists have suspected that stress and depression weaken these connections and ketamine reverses this process.

While ketamine is not likely to hit the shelves as a means for people to handle their depression symptoms, it is inspiring researchers to look for drugs that affect the brain in similar ways without the side effects of ketamine. They have already come close with Rilutek, a pill that affects the same systems that are affected by ketamine, but it appears to be less effective. Pharmaceutical companies have taken notice of the studies and are in the process of developing drugs that are intended to be the next wave of antidepressants.

These new drugs will provide relief to those for whom current drugs are not an answer. Time will tell if pharmaceutical companies will be able to reproduce the unintentional results of ketamine.