Drug treatment options for depression can take weeks for the beneficial effects to emerge, which is clearly inadequate for those at immediate risk of suicide. However, intravenous (IV) ketamine, a drug previously used as an anesthetic, has shown rapid antidepressant effects in early trials.
Researchers have now explored ketamine’s effects on suicidality in patients with treatment-resistant depression, and are publishing their results in the Sept. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry. Ketamine acutely reduced suicidal thoughts when patients were assessed 24 hours after a single infusion. This reduction in suicidality was maintained when patients received repeated doses over the next two weeks.
Corresponding author Rebecca Price commented on these encouraging findings: “If these findings hold up in larger samples of high-risk suicidal patients, IV ketamine could prove an attractive treatment option in situations where waiting for a conventional antidepressant treatment to take effect might endanger the patient's life.”
Since this was a preliminary study in a small group of depressed patients, further research is needed to replicate these results. However, the findings are promising and could result in improved treatment for suicidal patients in the future.
- Rebecca B. Price, Matthew K. Nock, Dennis S. Charney, and Sanjay J. Mathew. Effects of Intravenous Ketamine on Explicit and Implicit Measures of Suicidality in Treatment-Resistant Depression. Biological Psychiatry, 2009; 66 (5): 522 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.04.029
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