Researchers have looked past the negative connotations carried by ketamine — popularly known as a party drug — to help Wisconsin residents with severe depression battle the worst of symptoms.
There is currently a one-third success rate among those who have been treated, Steven Garlow, a psychiatrist at UW Health who has now been treating patients with Ketamine since 2012, said. This is comparable to the success rate as other commonly used antidepressants on the market which, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is at around 30 percent.
What has set ketamine apart from other drugs is that it starts to show effects in patients within hours of consumption with few side-effects, Wired Magazine contributor Moises Velazques-Manof wrote.
This research, however, has come with pushback and doubt from both the public and medical community.
Ketamine, when abused, can be highly addictive, and aside from its recreational uses, the drug has also come to be known as an effective date-rape drug due to its hallucinogenic properties.
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On campus, according to the University of Wisconsin Police Department, there has not been a presence of ketamine, or at least not enough to raise concern within the police department.
“We have been lucky that the campus has not seen a large presence of date-rape drugs like ketamine used for those purposes,” UWPD communications director Mark Lovicott said.
According to a report made by JAMA Psychiatry on the use of ketamine in mood disorders, aside from the public concern on ketamine, prolonged usage could potentially have physical side-effects like high blood-pressure due to the lack of long-term research.
Regardless of the unsettledness, Garlow said the benefits and successes of this treatment give it more of a merit than a fault.
“I went into this with a high degree of skepticism,” Garlow said. “My expectation was that we will treat a couple of patients, prove to myself that it doesn’t work and then move on from it. Most of the group of the first 10 or so patients we treated with it had really good responses to it.”
Ketamine for medical use is also not uncommon. According to an essay written by researchers in the University of Michigan on the evolvement of ketamine since it’s discovery, it has been approved by the FDA and used as an anesthetic, even for children, since the 1970s.
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The infusions are most commonly done through an IV under the supervision of professionals at very low doses of .5 milligrams per kilogram. Any of the “high” effects the drug has would wear off prior to leaving the medical building — patients who are going through this treatment are not doing it to get high; they are severely depressed candidates whose only goal is to get better, Garlow said.
“For the patients that I have treated, that part [of the drug] has never come up,” Garlow said. “They don’t view it in any way recreationally … the ones that it has worked for, they are very respectful and protective of it because they’re better.”
His patients worry that the negative views on ketamine may delay the process for the medicine to become more readily available.
Though it is uncertain why this drug works, there are currently several ongoing research projects into ketamine’s treatment of other health issues like ketamine as a rapid Treatment for PTSD, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, Ketamine Infusion for Social Anxiety Disorder, sponsored by Yale University and Ketamine for Chronic Pain, sponsored by the Netherlands Department of Anesthesiology.
As far as future plans and a timeline for ketamine to become more accessible as an antidepressant, Janssen Pharmaceuticals is currently in the process of getting FDA approval on a synthesized version of ketamine for treating depression.
“This could be passed and available as early as next year,” Garlow said.