From the front lines of psychedelic research: Ketamine as an anti-depressant

Science, 20 August 2010: Vol. 329. no. 5994, pp. 959 – 964

A team of researchers from Yale University report that ketamine, a drug normally used as an anasthetic, could be reformulated as an anti-depressant that takes effect in hours rather than the usual weeks and months of most available medications. The study was done with rats.

The team found that the drug not only improved the rats’ depression-like behaviors, it also restored connections between neurons or brain cells that had been damaged by chronic stress. They called this effect  “synaptogenesis.”

“Our results demonstrate that these effects of ketamine are opposite to the synaptic deficits that result from exposure to stress and could contribute to the fast antidepressant actions of ketamine.”

About ten years ago, scientists at Connecticut Mental Health Center found that in lower doses, ketamine, normally used as a general anasthetic for children, appeared to relieve patients with depression. Since then, other studies have shown that over two thirds of patients who don’t respond to all other types of anti-depressants improved hours after receiving ketamine.

The research teams testing ketamine in human subjects are giving it by intravenous injection – which is of course a drawback for ongoing use by depressed patients. They don’t seem to be aware of the fact that ketamine can also be taken by intramuscular injection – which should be no more difficult to handle than subcutaneous insulin injections by diabetics. Ketamine is an anesthetic that is useful in situations where you don’t want respiratory depression. Although it has found use in emergency medicine (it was used extensively in battlefield situations during the Korean War), it is now used mainly in children and veterinary medicine. Although it can’t be absorbed orally, it is available by prescription, for the treatment of chronic pain,  in the form of lozenges that are absorbed through the mucous membranes.

In the psychedelic drug sub-culture, where it is valued for its hallucinatory effects at lower, sub-anesthetic dosages, ketamine (referred to as “K” or “Special K”) is injected i.m. or snorted nasally ( it is not absorbed orally).

In my book MindSpace and TimeStream, I located ketamine (unlike other psychedelics) in the lower right quadrant of the two-dimensional mapping of psychoactive stimulants and depressants – lowered energy-level (due to the anaesthetic effect), but pleasurable on the hedonic continuum. “Ketamine.. an anaesthetic that at lower dosage ranges induces abstract visual hallucinations while one is drifting in a dream-like haze, pleasurably dissociated from bodily aches and pains.”  The dissociative anaesthetic effect of ketamine is the opposite of the sensation-enhancing effect of the classical psychedelics, although there is similarity in the abstract kaleidoscopic, eyes-closed visuals.

3 Responses

  1. former student of John Lilly, grateful for update on Ketamine. Joyous to see all tthat Ralph Metzner is doing.

  2. From the front lines of psychedelic research: Ketamine as an anti ……

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  3. do you know about research on subcutraneous administration of ketamine for depression?

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