Ketamine found to rapidly decrease suicidal thoughts in major depression

According to a new study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that the anesthetic ketamine could be effective in rapidly treating suicidal thoughts for patients with major depression.

The aim of the study for researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) was to find if ketamine, a selective antagonist of the NMDA receptor, may respond quicker to suicidal ideation compared to antidepressants, which takes weeks until it reaches its full therapeutic effect.

“Currently available antidepressants can be effective in reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with depression, but they can take weeks to have an effect. Suicidal, depressed patients need treatments that are rapidly effective in reducing suicidal thoughts when they are at highest risk. Currently, there is no such treatment for rapid relief of suicidal thoughts in depressed patients,” said Michael Grunebaum, one of the lead researchers.

As part of a randomized clinical trial, researchers recruited 80 participants who met the criteria for major depressive disorder, all adults, and with a score of ≥4 on the Scale for Suicidal Ideation (SSI). Nearly half of participants, about 54 percent, were taking antidepressant medication at the time of the study to treat their depressive symptoms and accompanying suicidal thoughts.

During the study, participants were randomly administered through intravenous injection a low dose of either ketamine or a similar anesthetic, midazolam.

Participants who took ketamine saw a significant decrease in suicidal thoughts within 24 hours, compared to the midazolam group. The reduction in severity of suicidal thoughts lasted up to six weeks, researchers found.

Researchers found that the ketamine group was also superior in drastically improving other depressive features and fatigue. Side effects of the drug were typically resolved within hours.

“This study shows that ketamine offers promise as a rapidly acting treatment for reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with depression,” Grunebaum stated.

“Additional research to evaluate ketamine’s antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects may pave the way for the development of new antidepressant medications that are faster acting and have the potential to help individuals who do not respond to currently available treatments.”

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