Australian researchers at the Black Dog Institute completed the world’s first randomized control trial (RCT), assessing the efficacy and safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression in elderly patients.
Increasing doses of ketamine were given over a period of five weeks, with doses tailored for each individual participant.
The results, published in the latest American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, provide preliminary evidence that ketamine is effective as an antidepressant – when delivered in repeated intravenous doses.
“What we noticed was that ketamine worked incredibly quickly and incredibly effectively,” Professor Colleen Loo, who led the pilot program told ABC News. “By incredibly effective, we mean going rapidly from severely depressed to being completely well in one day.”
“Some people think, ‘oh maybe it was just a drug induced temporary high’ — and it wasn’t,” she said. “You had the woozy effects in the first hour or so, but the antidepressant effects kicked in later.”
While the illicit narcotic has a reputation as a rave drug, it has long been used as an anaesthetic or sedative. None of the participants experienced problematic side effects, according to the research team who administered the drug through a small injection under the skin.
“Our results indicate a dose-titration method may be particularly useful for older patients, as the best dose was selected for each individual person to maximize ketamine’s benefits while minimizing its adverse side effects,” she said.
The institute will continue its research with a much larger, three-year trial into the drug’s efficacy as a treatment for major depression.
The trial, which aims to be the world’s largest in this field, will be made up of 200 Australian and New Zealand participants who have not responded to existing medications for major depression.