Ketamine is a ‘Rapid-Fire’ Treatment for Depression?

December 21, 2017

Ketamine —  used legally as an anesthetic and illegally in club settings — is emerging as a potential new treatment for some types of depression.
A new study found that ketamine was better at curbing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients than a sedative.
Researchers have called ketamine “the most important discovery in half a century.”
We visited a ketamine clinic that offers 45-minute infusions of the therapy in San Francisco.

After a 45-minute infusion of ketamine, clients at a clinic in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood are not partying.

Instead, they’re in a state of quiet contemplation — reclining on cushioned chairs, listening to music, or occasionally striking a tranquil yoga pose.

These clients are patients at one of ten ketamine clinics operated by Actify Neurotherapies, a network that offers the treatments to people diagnosed with severe forms of anxiety and depression. Ketamine is best known for its illegal recreational uses — it is a powerful dissociative that can induce feelings of being separated from one’s own body. But it is also one of the safest and most widely used legal anesthetics. And ketamine’s utility as an antidepressant has recently started to gain attention.

A new study out of Columbia University Medical Center found that ketamine worked significantly better at curbing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients than a commonly used sedative.

A spate of studies over the past several years have also suggested that ketamine may provide swift and powerful relief to people suffering from some of the hardest-to-treat forms of depression — an illness that is the leading disability worldwide. The findings have been so promising, in fact, that some researchers are calling it “the most important discovery in half a century,” though other experts say more research is still needed.

The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved ketamine for the treatment of anxiety or depression, so clinics that offer it for these uses are doing so off-label. Actify Neurotherapies is one of an estimated 50 to 100 such clinics taking the same approach across the US.

The potential promise of ketamine

Actify Neurotherapies’ San Francisco office is a cross between clinical and therapeutic. In each treatment room, a reclining clinical chair sits facing a large window. In the corner is a chair decorated with a colorful crocheted blanket.

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