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What Club Drug May Help Depression?

What Club Drug May Help Depression?Antidepressants not working for you? Psychotherapy a drag? Supplements no better than a sugar pill?

You might want to check out a drug more popularly known among the club scene and all-night dance parties than for the treatment of depression.

As we reported last month, researchers are taking a second look at ketamine — also known as Special K in the club scene — to help with depression.1 It appears it has the potential to be faster-acting than traditional antidepressants, which may make it a new treatment option for people who are depressed and are suicidal or in crisis.

Ketamine is already approved for certain medical uses, such as a human anesthetic, but its use is tightly controlled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration because of its potential for abuse. Now a number of pharmaceutical companies are investigating its use in the treatment of depression with active research trials around the world.

Bloomberg News has the story:

Ketamine may help patients who don’t respond to conventional antidepressants, such as Cymbalta or Lexapro, which don’t work on about a third of those who try them, says Alana Simorellis, an analyst with Decision Resources Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts. It may also benefit people who need urgent relief from suicidal tendencies, so long as the drug is given under the supervision of doctors in a hospital, she said.

“There is really no medical intervention for acute suicidality, which is a medical and psychiatric emergency,” said Mount Sinai’s Murrough, who is running a trial to investigate the drug’s potential to prevent suicide. “It’s a huge unmet need.”

Besides Sydney and New York, ketamine is being investigated for depression at sites in Boston, Houston and Miami, as well as Changzhou, China; Grenoble, France; Geneva, Switzerland; and Aberdeen, Scotland, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Lisa Monteggia, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at University of Texas, noted, “Ketamine produces a very sharp increase that immediately relieves depression.” Monteggia was the lead author on a study published in last month’s Nature about ketamine’s use for depression.

“Ketamine produces a fast-acting antidepressant effect, and we hope our investigation provides critical information to treat depression effectively sooner.” Current antidepressants can take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks to become fully effective, and most only relieve some — but not all — symptoms of depression.

But this is hardly new news.

For instance, back in 2007 — 5 years ago — there was a study demonstrating that ketamine relieves depression in hours.2

Of course, the real question will be how to offer a new formulation of ketamine that will allow for more widespread use, while significantly reducing the use of abuse or addition.

If additional research confirms these findings and pharmaceutical companies can crack the abuse issue, ketamine may find a new and more popular use — as a fast-acting antidepressant used to help people where traditional antidepressants have been found ineffective.


Read the full article: Special K for Depression Renews Hope in Hallucinogens

What Club Drug May Help Depression?


  1. We also noted nearly 2 years ago that ketamine also provides relief to bipolar patients. []
  2. In a study that was published in Biological Psychiatry, June 23, 2007. []

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). What Club Drug May Help Depression?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Jul 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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