From the Journals

Ketamine linked to reduced suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety



Ketamine infusions can help reduce symptoms of suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD), new research suggests.

founder and medical director, MindPeace Clinics, Richmond, Virginia MindPeace Clinics

Dr. Patrick Oliver

Results from a retrospective chart review analysis, which included more than 400 participants with TRD, illustrate that ketamine is a safe and rapid treatment in a real-world patient population, lead author Patrick A. Oliver, MD, founder and medical director, MindPeace Clinics, Richmond, Va., told this news organization.

The effect was perhaps most notable for reducing suicidal ideation, he said.

“In 2 weeks, we can take somebody from being suicidal to nonsuicidal. It’s a total game changer,” Dr. Oliver added.

Every year in the United States, about 12 million individuals think about suicide, 3.2 million make a plan to kill themselves, and more than 46,000 succeed, the investigators note.

The findings were published online in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Molecule mixture

Primarily used as an anesthetic in hospitals, ketamine is also taken illegally as a recreational drug. Users may aim for an intense high or feeling of dissociation, or an out-of-body–type experience.

Ketamine is a mixture of two mirror-image molecules. An intranasal version of one of these molecules (esketamine) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for TRD. Both esketamine and ketamine are believed to increase neurotrophic signaling that affects synaptic function.

The study included 424 patients (mean age, 41.7 years) with major depressive disorder or another mood disorder and who received at least one ketamine infusion at a specialty clinic. Most participants had failed prior medication trials.

Patients in the study were typically started on 0.5 mg/kg of ketamine, with the dose titrated to achieve symptoms of partial dissociation. The median dose administered after titration was 0.93 mg/kg over 40 minutes.

The main treatment course of at least six infusions within 21 days was completed by 70% of the patients.

At each clinic visit, all participants completed the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7).

The primary outcome was PHQ-9 total scores, for which researchers looked at seven time periods: 1 week, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 7-12 weeks, 13-24 weeks, 25-51 weeks, and 52+ weeks.

‘Blows it out of the water’

Results showed PHQ-9 total scores declined by 50% throughout the course of treatment, with much of the improvement gained within 4-6 weeks. There was a significant difference between week 1 and all later time periods (all P values < .001) and between weeks 2 and 3 and all later periods (all P values < .001).

Other measures included treatment response, defined as at least a 50% improvement on the PHQ-9, and depression remission, defined as a PHQ-9 score of less than 5. After three infusions, 14% of the patients responded and 7% were in remission. After 10 infusions, 72% responded and 38% were in remission.

These results compare favorably to other depression treatments, said Dr. Oliver. “Truthfully, with the exception of ECT [electroconvulsive therapy], this blows it all out of the water,” he added.

Dr. Oliver noted that the success rate for repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is 40%-60% depending on the modality; and for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the success rate “is somewhere between the mid-20s and low-30s percent range.”

Another outcome measure was the self-harm/suicidal ideation item of the PHQ-9 questionnaire, which asks about “thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way.” About 22% of the study participants no longer reported suicidal ideation after 3 infusions, 50% by 6 infusions, and 75% by 10 infusions.

By 15 infusions, 85% no longer reported these thoughts. “Nothing else has shown that, ever,” said Dr. Oliver.

Symptoms of generalized anxiety were also substantially improved. There was about a 30% reduction in the GAD-7 score during treatment and, again, most of the response occurred by 4-6 weeks.


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