Club Drug Ketamine Gains Traction As A Treatment For Depression
September 28, 2015
in 2006, a team from the National Institute of Mental Health published a landmark study showing that a single intra venous dose of ketamine produced “robust and rapid antidepressant effects” within a couple of hours.
Since then, thousands of depressed patients have received “off-label” treatment with ketamine.
A major study on antidepressant medication published in 2008 seemed to confirm his suspicions. It found that current antidepressants really aren’t much better than a placebo.
Many psychiatrists criticized that study. But not Feifel. “I was kind of like, I’m not surprised,” he says. “These really don’t seem like powerful tools.”
He knew the drug had risks. It could be abused. It could produce hallucinations.
“There are a lot of pundits who remain skeptical or feel we need to research this ad infinitum before it’s ready, which doesn’t make sense to me,” Feifel says. It’s hard to take the wait-and-see approach when you’re treating patients who are desperate for help, he adds.
For the past year, Paul has been getting ketamine every four to six weeks. He feels an altered sense of reality for an hour or two after getting the drug. The effect on depression and anxiety, though, lasts more than a month.
One is that its ability to keep depression at bay can fade pretty quickly. Feifel recalls one patient whose depression would disappear like magic after a dose of ketamine. But “we could never get it to sustain beyond maybe a day,” he says.
Also, ketamine treatment is expensive because patients need to be monitored so closely. Feifel charges about $500 for each injection and $1,000 for an intra venous infusion, which takes effect more quickly. Insurers don’t cover the cost because the treatment is still considered experimental.
Even so, ketamine clinics are popping up around the country and they have already treated thousands of patients willing and able to pay out of pocket. Some of the clinics are run by psychiatrists. Others have been started by entrepreneurial anesthesiologists and emergency room doctors, who are familiar with ketamine but may not know much about depression.
Director’s Blog: Ketamine
By Thomas Insel on October 1, 2014
A Consensus Statement on the Use of Ketamine in the Treatment of Mood Disorders
Gerard Sanacora, et al. for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Council of Research Task Force on Novel Biomarkers and Treatments
JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(4):399-405.