Researchers are learning how the anesthetic drug ketamine produces a fast-acting antidepressant response in patients with treatment-resistant depression.

According to the scientists, the drug’s ability to serve as a robust fast-acting antidepressant, even at low doses, raises the possibilities that ketamine could be used in emergency rooms with high-risk patients.

“Ketamine produces a very sharp increase that immediately relieves depression,” said Lisa Monteggia, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and senior author of the study published in the journal Nature.

Currently the selection of an antidepressant medication is a hit or miss endeavor — and, in a best case scenario, a typical antidepressant medication will take several weeks to relieve symptoms of depression.

If they are not successful within 12 weeks, physicians have to try a different antidepressant for patients in hopes of a better response.

“Ketamine produces a fast-acting antidepressant effect, and we hope our investigation provides critical information to treat depression effectively sooner,”  Monteggia said.

“We now have a novel pathway to explore that may provide potential for the development of faster-acting and longer-lasting antidepressants,” Monteggia said.

Ketamine is not without its hazards: Over the past decade or so, there has been a sharp rise in abuse of the drug, which can cause hallucinations, dissociation and high blood pressure. Repeated use has been associated with impaired memory and concentration.

At present, the drug is only approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for pediatric and veterinary anesthesia.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center