January 31, 2012

Are you feeling depressed? You could take 'rape drug' Ketamine

A prescription drug that is also used as a powerful horse tranquiliser could offer an almost instant remedy for people suffering from depression, say scientists.

Doctors at Ben Taub General hospital in Houston, Texas, are testing the effect of ketamine on patients with a severe form of the condition.

The Class C drug, which is illegal to possess or sell, can cause a loss of feeling in the body and paralysis of the muscles sometimes giving users a feeling of being separated from reality. It is popular with clubbers because of its hallucinogenic effects.

However, mental health researchers were alerted to reports that the drug could also make depression 'vanish' almost instantly.

Current anti-depressants take at least a few weeks to kick-in, leaving a dangerous period when many patients feel suicidal. Ketamine could therefore be used to bridge that gap.

Scientists at the Neuro Psychiatric Center attached to the Ben Taub General are giving trial patients one infusion of either ketamine or a normal sedative and comparing the results.

One trial patient, mother-of-three Heather Merrill, believes she had been administered with the ketamine.

She told National Public Radio (npr.org) in the U.S that 24-hours after her treatment: 'It was almost immediate, the sense of calmness and relaxation.

'No more fogginess. No more heaviness. I feel like I'm a clean slate right now. I want to go home and see friends or, you know, go to the grocery store and cook the family dinner.'

Dr Asim Shah, director of the mood disorder programme in Ben Taub, added: 'She looks like a person who is genuinely happy, whereas before the study, she looked very down, very withdrawn, almost tearful.'

Researchers said the consistent patient reactions have made it hard to prevent doctors and patients from working out who has been given the drug, and who has had the placebo.

If the trial proves successful the researchers will then administer the drug three times a week to patients to test the long-term effects.

Ketamine can cause serious bladder problems and there are suggestions it could make some existing mental health problems worse and cause heart problems.

The scientists are hoping patients in the second trial will experience a radical mood boost that will last for a few months. They are also looking at developing a pill form of the intravenous infusion.

If all studies prove successful it will be at least two years before the drug is approved for use.