A recent series of studies continues to support the clinical effectiveness of ketamine, for a wide range of psychiatric and neurological conditions.
A recent review article from the University of Oxford, in England, examined the pooled data from 25 different studies, looking at 11 different medications. Only IV ketamine—not any of the 10 other medications that target the brain’s glutamate receptor—showed significant benefits over patients receiving a placebo. And ketamine outperformed an oral antidepressant and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), at least in the short term.
This is not the first research that has rated ketamine as more effective, in some circumstances, than ECT.
One expert (who happens to be a consultant to companies that make other antidepressants) took a negative view of the results, since the effects of ketamine were not permanent. But this could easily have been because patients were not given the medication over a long enough period of time, or because doses were limited. In fact, the authors of the Oxford study suggest that future research focus on studies in which IV ketamine would be given repeatedly, over time.
The really stunning conclusion is that the Oxford data confirm my clinical experience: When properly delivered and dosed, ketamine may be one of the most effective treatments for major depression and severe anxiety ever known.
Moreover, IV ketamine is one of the safest antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents clinicians can offer. It is delivered by health care professionals, at dosages significantly below even the safe dosages used by dentists to extract teeth from adolescents. The dosages are far lower than those used by anesthesiologists during routine surgeries.
Ketamine continues to prove its value in other clinical arenas, as well. A recent study supports the use of ketamine to treat unremitting seizures. Another supports the use of ketamine to treat severe pain in children and adolscents. And yet another supports the use of ketamine in emergency rooms—as a potentially better alternative to traditional psychiatric medicines to treat patients who are extremely irritable (those suffering with “excited delirium”).
The clinical benefits of ketamine, in fact, recently moved the World Health Organization (WHO) to oppose any attempt to put ketamine under international control. This is the fourth time since 2006 that the WHO has opposed any such restrictions on ketamine.
“The medical benefits of ketamine far outweigh potential harm from recreational use,” stated Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant-director general for Health Systems and Innovation at WHO.