Researchers find ketamine to be effective therapeutic treatment for mental health disorders

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Ketamine is being deemed as a powerful tool to help ward off mental illness, according to recent research.

According to a new study published in the journal British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan and the University of Exeter have found ketamine to have significant antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects.

Researchers analyzed more than 150 worldwide studies on the effects of sub-anesthetic ketamine doses for the treatment of mental illness. The review sought to evaluate the therapeutic benefits of ketamine treatment on psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, social and generalized anxiety, obsessive–compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance use disorders, and eating disorders. The review also assessed whether ketamine anesthesia for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is effective for the treatment of these psychiatric disorders, and any adverse effects associated with ketamine treatment.

The research concluded that there is a plethora of evidence that supports “a robust, rapid, and transient antidepressant effect of ketamine in unipolar and bipolar depression, as well as treatment resistance depression, with repeated dosing increasing the duration of effectiveness,” according to the study. It also suggests that ketamine may be helpful in the treatment of other mental health conditions including eating disorders, problematic substance use, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety—though more evidence needs to be collected.

In addition, the review found that ketamine’s therapeutic benefits can be extended with psychological therapy. Researchers found that pairing this treatment with certain psychological therapies may further increase motivation to remain abstinent in alcohol and substance use disorders. Ketamine may also deepen an individual’s mindfulness practice because of its mystical and spiritual effects.

An N-methyl-d-Aspartate receptor antagonist with well-established safety and efficacy as an analgesic and anesthetic, ketamine was developed in 1964, according to the study, largely as a replacement for phencyclidine. It has been used primarily in veterinary and pediatric anesthesia, but interest in recent years has increased in psychiatry after reports of its rapid-acting antidepressant effects.

“We need a lot more information on how these interventions could work—for example, administering the drug is only a part of treatment. We need to figure out what amount and type of psychotherapy would best compliment the drug intervention to really maximize potential benefits,” said Zach Walsh, PhD, a psychology professor at UBC and co-author of the study, in a statement. “With that being said, it is a truly exciting time for ketamine research. If it can deliver the relief that early evidence suggests it can, this could be among the most significant developments in mental health treatment in decades.”