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Ketamine’s potential as an antidepressant is creating conversation in psychiatry circles.
IT was first used as an anaesthetic on American soldiers during the Vietnam War before becoming a party drug at dance raves in the 1990s. It has been implicated in date rape cases but has eased the pain of millions.
A report by Channel Ten’s The Project reveals how researchers are excited by ketamine as an antidepressant with potentially stunning results.
“There’s been nothing like it in the history of treating depression,” says Professor Colleen Loo, a world leader in Ketamine research at the University of NSW.
“Within 24 hours, people went from being severely depressed to being completely well.
“If you look at people who haven’t responded to many other treatments, roughly two-thirds of them will get better with ketamine.”
At this stage trials are still ongoing. And with around three million Australians suffering from depression, there are a lot of people who will be waiting intently for the outcome of these ongoing trials.
But Professor Jayashari Kulkarni, Monash Alfred psychiatry research centre director, warns that the jury is still out on the efficacy of ketamine for treating depression.
“This is a serious drug, this is a drug that has a number of significant side-effects,” he told Channel Ten.
Not least of which is the notorious ‘K-hole’, where those taking it can go into a depressive spiral.
“It’s when people fall into a hole often of deep depression following ketamine withdrawal,” Professor Kulkarni says.
“Any use of a medication like this needs to be done very carefully with considered monitoring.”
Although the Therapeutic Drugs Administration hasn’t approved ketamine for treating depression, it’s not illegal to prescribe TGA-approved drugs for an unapproved purpose — known as ‘off-label’ prescribing.
So depression clinics offering ketamine as a ‘path-breaking’ new treatment for depression have sprung up across the country, in response to the promising results seen in the trials.
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Ketamine is being promoted as a “path-breaking” treatment for depression by some clinics.
Aura Medical Corporation is one of them. Aura’s program typically administers 40-60mL of ketamine subcutaneously (via injection) twice a week for six weeks (at $150 per injection) then one injection a week for another six weeks to patients with severe treatment-resistant depression. However, doses and treatment duration vary dramatically, with some patients spending up to $3000 on a course of treatment.
A variant of ketamine is known for its role as an animal tranquilliser.
The company says it has so far treated 500 patients at its clinics in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with a 65% success rate in treating patients with severe depression.
“In this group of patients, with severe depression, suicidality is unfortunately one of the symptoms,” Professor Kulkarni told The Project.
“So in giving patients unsupervised vials of ketamine it is also opening the door to actually hand over a potentially lethal weapon to this patient.”
But Associate Professor Graham Barrett, consultant doctor with Aura, says that the dosages make that highly unlikely.
“The dose that we use is small, it’s 50 or 100 times smaller than a dose you would give for an anaesthetic, so the safety profile is excellent,” he says.
“I say look at this patient, look at the life he’s been living for 25 years — I don’t want to tell him oh wait 10 years while we do a bit more research.”
But Professor Loo says that it’s too early to be offering ketamine to the public, outside of clinical trials.
“We have to be very careful in how we develop this treatment, I think it has amazing potential, potentially like a wonder drug in psychiatry, but I think how we develop it is really important.”
For more information on the Professor Loo’s Ketamine trials, go to:
Professor Loo and her team is seeking more funding to complete their initial work on Ketamine. To donate, go to:
May 19, 2015
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