Party drug may help treat depression: Study

Washington: Ketamine, a drug which is highly popular among night clubbers for its euphoric effect, can also help treat depression, scientists have claimed.

Ketamine has been used as an anaesthetic for decades. After noticing the euphoric effect it seems to have on patients, a team at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston wanted to know if the drug could help beat depression.

Initial results of clinical trials on the drug have been extremely promising, as it helped soothe depression among 80 to 90 per cent of the patients who used it.

"Once the patient takes ketamine, it causes euphoria and a rapid antidepressant effect within two hours," said Asim Shah, a professor of psychiatry who led the research.

Furthermore, ketamine helps a greater proportion of the affected population than traditional antidepressants, such as Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft, LiveScience reported.

These drugs help improve conditions for only about 30 to 40 per cent of the patient population, barely outperforming placebos. But, a single infusion of ketamine washes away the symptoms of 80 to 90 per cent of the patients, Shah said.

Scientists understand how ketamine chemically affects the brain, but they don`t quite know why it alleviates symptoms of depression which affects about 30 million in the US alone.

According to Ken Robbins, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ketamine binds to portals in the brain, called NMDA receptors, which prevents a chemical called glutamate from occupying the same spots.

Because glutamate revs up the system and can cause cell damage, ketamine has a sedative effect by blocking it. Somehow this causes euphoria. "The hypotheses for why ketamine might be helping depression are in their infancy," Robbins said.

Whatever the explanation, it`s a very different mechanism from that of other anti-depressants we now use, he said.

"I think what we`re seeing is there may be a whole other neurotransmitter system that plays a role in depression that we weren`t aware of."