Scientists have found a substance that’s emitted after taking ketamine that could be used to create a fast-acting anti-depressant – without any negative side effects.
Initially used as a horse tranquilizer, ketamine is now better known as a ‘date-rape drug’, and is banned from the streets.
Trials testing the effects of ketamine found it can relieve depression much faster than commonly prescribed drugs, but with it came dissociative, euphoric and addictive side effects. That ultimately led it to being an illegal drug.
Delving into the anti-depressant properties in more depth, researchers learned it wasn’t ketamine causing the effects that relieved depression. Rather, it’s a chemical produced in the body when the ketamine is broken down that triggers the relief.
“This discovery fundamentally changes our understanding of how this rapid antidepressant mechanism works and holds promise for development of more robust and safer treatments,” said Dr. Carlos Zarate, one of the authors of a paper regarding the research, found in the journal Nature.
“Researchers were able to reverse-engineer ketamine’s workings from the clinic to the lab to pinpoint what makes it so unique.”
The clinical trials were conducted on mice; the researchers’ next step is to run human trials. They need to ensure the same process was happening in humans, and from there, they’d isolate the beneficial effects while discarding the negative ones.
“Now that we know that ketamine’s antidepressant actions in mice are due to a metabolite, not ketamine itself, the next steps are to confirm that it works similarly in humans, and determine if it can lead to improved therapeutics for patients,” explained Dr. Todd Gould of Maryland University’s School of Medicine, another one of the researchers.
Professor Celia Morgan, of Exeter University’s psychology department, is wary of using an addictive drug like ketamine repeatedly in a depression treatment.
But the results from the study certainly warrant further exploration.
“These findings are in mice, so it still remains to be seen if they translate to humans. We also do not know the exact way in which this metabolite works, rather we know how it doesn’t work, so much work needs to be done before we get to the stage of testing such a drug in humans,” she said.