09:14 GMT18 April 2021
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    Researchers are calling the use of ketamine to treat depression “the most important discovery in half a century.”

    Even though ketamine is known popularly primarily as a party drug, researchers now note that it can be used to rapidly treat depression, a disease that can lead to thoughts of suicide that, under current treatment schemes, have been consistently shown to arise unexpectedly. 

    "Imagine arriving in the emergency room with severe pain from a kidney stone — pain so bad that you can't think. You'll do anything to make it go away. And the doctors say, 'here's a drug that we've been using for 30 years, it works 50-60 percent of the time, and it should start to work in 4-6 weeks.' That's currently the best we can do." Cristina Cusin, a psychiatrist and an assistant professor at Harvard University, said, cited by Business Insider.

    Cusin's observation refers to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), a class of antidepressant drugs typically used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. SSRIs take several weeks to become effective. 

    Cusin reviewed existing research on ketamine, analyzing some 40 ketamine studies involving brain imaging and publishing her findings in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry this month. The results of her study revealed that those depressed patients who are administered ketamine in carefully controlled clinical environments undergo helpful changes in the brain, particularly in areas that regulate emotion. In addition, the drug also appeared to increased brain activity in areas connected to reward processing.

    In December 2017, researchers working with depressed and suicidal patients at Columbia University observed that the clinical use of ketamine reduced suicidal thoughts much more than a regularly used sedative. In fact, the moods of most of the patients improved in less than 24 hours after being prescribed ketamine in controlled situations. necessary, butpoints outthat the drug "absolutely has potential."


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