Ketamine, more than other sedatives, was exceedingly more effective in calming and lessening suicidal thoughts in depressed people, a new study found.
The drug’s effects were felt more rapidly, too, just hours after being administered.
“There is a critical window in which depressed patients who are suicidal need rapid relief to prevent self-harm,” lead author Michael Grunebaum told Science Daily. “Currently available antidepressants can be effective in reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with depression, but they can take weeks to have an effect. Suicidal, depressed patients need treatments that are rapidly effective in reducing suicidal thoughts when they are at highest risk. Currently, there is no such treatment for rapid relief of suicidal thoughts in depressed patients.”
The study said that most medical trials for antidepressants exclude people with suicidal thoughts and actions, making it difficult to assess the drugs’ success with them. But even low doses of ketamine, a powerful sedative typically used in combination with anesthesia, had fast-acting effects for them, including reduced depression and a decrease in suicidal thoughts.
For the research, 80 clinically depressed adults were randomly placed into two groups, one that received the drug and another that took midazolam, a sedative. In only 24 hours the group that took a low dose of ketamine felt a significantly greater reduction of their thoughts of suicide than the others that lasted for up to six weeks.
People who were administered ketamine also had better moods overall, felt less depressed and more awake than the midazolam takers. Side effects of the drug included mild dissociation (“feeling spacey”) and increased blood pressure that resolved itself within a few hours if not minutes.
“This study shows that ketamine offers promise as a rapidly acting treatment for reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with depression,” Grunebaum said. “Additional research to evaluate ketamine’s antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects may pave the way for the development of new antidepressant medications that are faster acting and have the potential to help individuals who do not respond to currently available treatments.”