Ketamine nasal spray can fight depression, suicidal thoughts

Henrietta Strickland
April 16, 2018

A nasal spray containing ketamine, a powerful general anaesthetic, has shown promise in treating symptoms of severe depression and suicidal thoughts, according to a new study.

All were treated with anti-depressants throughout the trial, with half given esketamine - part of the ketamine molecule - twice a week for four weeks. All participants involved in the study were to receiving treatment with antidepressants throughout.

A team from the Janssen Research and Development, a Johnson and Johnson company, and Yale School of Medicine, conducted what is the first study into ketamine as a treatment for depression, spearheaded by a drug company.

The results showed significant improvement in the MADRS score of patients that took Ketamine compared to patients in the placebo group four hours after the first treatment.

The researchers compared the effects at four hours after first treatment, at 24 hours and at 25 days.

"In just a matter of hours" participants in the ketamine test group and their doctors "measured a significant improvement in symptoms of patients classed as being at high risk of suicide", says The Independent.

In previous research, intranasal esketamine administered along with usual antidepressants rapidly improved depression symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Because it is so fast-acting, the study authors suggest that the esketamine nasal spray could become an important treatment for those at imminent risk of suicide. Most antidepressants take four to six weeks to become fully effective. In this double-blind, proof-of-concept study, researchers examined the efficacy and safety of intranasal esketamine vs. placebo for the rapid reduction of depressive symptoms and suicidality in patients with major depression.

Meanwhile, due to potential abuse of Ketamine, scientists noted that more research is necessary to protect users. That caution is also the focus of an accompanying AJP editorial also published online today. The nasal spray will be required to undergo phase 3 trials before potential approval by the FDA.

Dr Robert Freedman, editor at American Journal of Psychiatry said in a statement that, "Protection of the public's health is part of our responsibility as well, and, as physicians, we are responsible for preventing new drug epidemics". "Rather, the aim is to establish the risk for abuse and the framework within which that treatment will continue to be available to those with need, while the population that is at risk for abuse is protected from an epidemic of misuse".

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