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- Effects wear off at day 25; it may be suited to those with an imminent suicide risk
- None of the study’s participants developed an addiction to the class B drug
- The ‘significant’ study may bring ketamine a step closer to NHS prescription
- Ketamine can only be prescribed as an anaesthetic in humans and animals
- Severely depressed woman credits ketamine for stopping her suicidal thoughts
The illegal party drug ketamine eases severe depression and prevents suicidal thoughts just four hours after it is taken as a nasal spray, new research suggests.
When taken twice a week, the horse tranquiliser’s effects wear off by day 25, suggesting ketamine is only suitable for those with an imminent risk of taking their own lives, according to the US researchers.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists described the study as ‘significant’, adding it brings the drug ‘a step closer to being prescribed on the NHS’.
Ketamine can be prescribed ‘off label’ in the UK and US but is not available on the NHS, while insurance companies in America rarely pay for its use.
Off-label is the prescription of medications for conditions they are not approved for.
This comes after a severely depressed woman, named Sabrina Misra, 36, from Chicago, said she ‘went from actively wanting to kill myself to being fine’ after just four IV ketamine infusions.
Ketamine is a Schedule III drug in the US and a class B in the UK. It can legally be prescribed by doctors as a general anaesthetic in humans and animals.
The illegal party drug ketamine eases severe depression and prevents suicidal thoughts just four hours after it is taken as a nasal spray, new research suggests (stock)
WHAT IS KETAMINE?
Ketamine is a powerful general anaesthetic that is used to stop humans and animals experiencing pain during operations.
It started being used as a party drug in the late 2000s, with people taking it before raves for a more intense experience.
What are the side effects?
Ketamine causes a loss of feeling and paralysis of the muscles.
It can also lead to people experiencing a distortion of reality, which many call entering the ‘k-hole’.
This is when people believe they have spoken to God or a higher power, which can lead to addiction as they crave that experience.
Ketamine may also cause people to feel incapable of moving, experience hallucinations or lead to panic attacks, confusion and memory loss.
Regular users can seriously damage their bladders, which may need to be surgically removed.
Other risks include a raised heart rate and blood pressure.
Paralysis of the muscles can leave people vulnerable to hurting themselves, while not feeling pain properly can cause them to underestimate any damage.
Many claim ketamine withdrawal is worse than any other drug, with some feeling so depressed they contemplate suicide.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Samaritans here.
How is it taken and what is the law around it?
For medical use ketamine is liquid but the ‘street’ drug is normally a grainy, white powder, with one gram costing around £20.
As a class B drug in the UK, possession of ketamine can result in people facing up to five years in jail, while supplying it could mean up to 14 years in prison.
Both cases may result in people facing an unlimited fine.
Source: Talk to Frank
None developed a ketamine addiction
The researchers, from Yale University and Janssen Research and Development, which is a Johnson and Johnson company, gave 68 people either 84mg of ketamine or placebo twice a week for a month.
Those receiving ketamine took it via a nasal spray, alongside a standard-of-care depression treatment.
Dr James Stone, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the BBC, taking ketamine intranasally, compared to IV, makes it quicker and easier to administer.
Although IV drugs enter the bloodstream immediately, they can be difficult to administer on a large scale, while oral tablets take longer to be absorbed as they have to go through the gastro tract, he explained.
Dr Stone adds intranasal ketamine could replace controversial electroshock therapy for those who have failed multiple depression treatments.
Results further suggest the most common side effects ketamine takers experience are nausea, dizziness, headache and an unpleasant taste.
None of the participants developed a ketamine dependency, however, the researchers add further studies investigating this are required.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Ketamine ‘gets rid of suicidal thoughts that have been there for 20 years’
Dr Abid Nazeer, who treated Ms Misra at the Advanced Psychiatric Solutions in Oak Brook, told the Chicago Tribune: ‘I’ve seen [ketamine] work so quickly that one infusion gets rid of suicidal thoughts that had been there for 20 years.’
Traditional antidepressants, like Prozac, typically take six-to-eight weeks to be effective, according to Dr Carlos Zarate from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Dr Bal Nandra, from the IV Solution Ketamine Centers of Chicago, adds at least 80 percent of people with treatment-resistant depression who have received the drug in his clinic have improved.
Ketamine is thought to relieve depression by limiting the levels of the chemical messenger glutamate in the brain, which lifts depressed patients’ moods.
The illegal party drug ketamine ‘cured’ Sabrina Misra of depression that left her suicidal
Is ketamine safe to take for depression?
Dr James Murrough, a psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, questions ketamine’s safety, arguing people who abuse the drug can develop cognitive problems, while high doses have caused toxicities in rats.
Due to ketamine being associated with addiction, Dr Murrough adds doctors should be aware of patients becoming dependent on the drug.
Yet, most treatment sessions involve patients being administered 0.5mg of ketamine per kg of body weight, which is substantially less than what is required to get users ‘high’.
Dr Nandra adds most patients receiving ketamine usually enter a dreamy state while it is being infused, which diminishes around 10 minutes later, with patients being able to go home within the hour.
He argues ketamine has demonstrated its safety over its many years of use as an anaesthetic, adding this should encourage the drug’s FDA approval for depression.
Ms Misra, who treats mental-health patients herself as a licensed clinical therapist, said it is ‘horrible’ people are being denied an effective treatment because insurance companies will not pay up, saying: ‘No one should have to die because they can’t pay for treatment.’
Her ketamine treatments have cost Ms Misra around $4,500 (£3,170), which she describes as the best money she has ever spent.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Samaritans here.
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Illegal party drug ketamine eases severe depression after four hours