“A 2012 review of four preliminary studies in patients with severe depression concluded that approximately 65-70% of patients responded well to ketamine. The other 35-30% either did not have a significant response, or their relief from depression was only short-lived.”
- Ketamine — used legally as an anesthetic and illegally in club settings — is emerging as a potential new treatment for some types of depression.
- A new study found that ketamine was better at curbing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients than a sedative.
- Researchers have called ketamine “the most important discovery in half a century.”
- We visited a ketamine clinic that offers 45-minute infusions of the therapy in San Francisco.
After a 45-minute infusion of ketamine, clients at a clinic in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood are not partying.
Instead, they’re in a state of quiet contemplation — reclining on cushioned chairs, listening to music, or occasionally striking a tranquil yoga pose.
These clients are patients at one of ten ketamine clinics operated by Actify Neurotherapies, a network that offers the treatments to people diagnosed with severe forms of anxiety and depression. Ketamine is best known for its illegal recreational uses — it is a powerful dissociative that can induce feelings of being separated from one’s own body. But it is also one of the safest and most widely used legal anesthetics. And ketamine’s utility as an antidepressant has recently started to gain attention.
A new study out of Columbia University Medical Center found that ketamine worked significantly better at curbing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients than a commonly used sedative.
A spate of studies over the past several years have also suggested that ketamine may provide swift and powerful relief to people suffering from some of the hardest-to-treat forms of depression — an illness that is the leading disability worldwide. The findings have been so promising, in fact, that some researchers are calling it “the most important discovery in half a century,” though other experts say more research is still needed.
The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved ketamine for the treatment of anxiety or depression, so clinics that offer it for these uses are doing so off-label. Actify Neurotherapies is one of an estimated 50 to 100 such clinics taking the same approach across the US.
The potential promise of ketamine
Actify Neurotherapies’ San Francisco office is a cross between clinical and therapeutic. In each treatment room, a reclining clinical chair sits facing a large window. In the corner is a chair decorated with a colorful crocheted blanket.
Erin Brodwin / Business Insider
“We’re striking a balance between a clinical setting and a home setting,” Steve Levine, a psychiatrist and the CEO of Actify Neurotherapies, told Business Insider.
Each two-hour visit includes 45 minutes of ketamine infusion, 45 minutes of a saline drip, and a consultation with Alison McInnes, a physician who founded a regional ketamine therapy program with Kaiser Permanente.
“Therapy and ketamine go together like peanut butter and chocolate,” Levine said. “And with our approach, you have someone with an extensive background in mental health and therapy always present, and talk therapy happens before and after the infusion.”
The latest research on ketamine’s potential to treat depression — specifically the deadliest complication of the disorder, suicide — was published in December in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The Columbia University researchers found that ketamine did a significantly better job of curbing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients than a commonly prescribed sedative.