Ketamine Study Doc Says Don't Try 'Special K' On Your Own To Fight Depression

Earlier this week, NPR ran a series of reports on a study conducted in Houston that found ketamine might be highly effective in treating severe cases of depression. Ketamine is an animal tranquilizer. It's also a party drug known as "Special K". The lead doctor in the study says ketamine's potential ability to fight depression should not be tested at home.

Dr. Sanjay Mathew is the director of the Mood Disorders Program at Baylor College of Medicine.  He says whenever there's a story about an illicit drug effectively treating a chronic condition, there's always the chance that people who suffer from those ailments will self-medicate with drugs they buy off the street.  Dr. Mathew says it's happened before with marijuana, when it was found to help nausea in chemo patients, and with prescription amphetamines. 

"Which are, of course, legal for the use in Attention Deficit Disorder.  So that would dextroamphetamine, or drugs like Ritalin, or methylphenidates, which also have abuse liability and have to be closely monitored."

Dr. Mathew says people using ketamine for depression outside a clinical setting would have no help to handle the potential side effects:

"Including psychotic episodes or psychotic symptoms.  There could be risk of very high blood pressure. And there could be the risk, in very high doses, of stroke.  And there could also be the risk of respiratory depression."

Dr. Mathew says patients in the ketamine trials receive controlled doses by IV.  And doctors monitor the patients for hours after an infusion. 

Dr. Mathew says some doctors are already using ketamine for depression, even though the FDA hasn't specifically approved it for that purpose. That's not a practice he would recommend, because there's not enough information yet on the drug's efficacy and safety.

 

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David Pitman

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