The rave drug ketamine can quickly ease depression and soothe suicidal thoughts in the short term, research has revealed.
Analysis of 83 research papers showed that patients’ symptoms were reduced in just one to four hours.
Some patients were relieved of suicidal thoughts for up to a week – though the average was three days.
The University of Exeter’s review found that the strongest evidence emerged around the use of ketamine to treat both major depression and bipolar depression.
Lead author Merve Mollaahmetoglu said: “Our research is the most comprehensive review of the growing body of evidence on the therapeutic effects of ketamine to date.
“Our findings suggest that ketamine may be useful in providing rapid relief from depression and suicidal thoughts, creating a window of opportunity for further therapeutic interventions to be effective.
“It’s important to note that this review examined ketamine administration in carefully controlled clinical settings where any risks of ketamine can be safely managed.”
For other psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, there is early evidence to suggest the potential benefit of ketamine treatment.
For individuals with substance use disorders, ketamine treatment led to short-term reductions in craving, consumption and withdrawal symptoms.
Senior author Professor Celia Morgan added: “We’re finding that ketamine may have promising benefits for conditions that are notoriously hard to treat in clinic.
“We now need bigger and better-designed trials to test these benefits.
“For example, due to ketamine’s unique subjective effects, participants may be able to tell whether they have been given ketamine or a saline solution as the placebo, potentially creating an expectation about the effects of the drug.
“This effect may be better controlled by having active placebo-controlled trials, where the control group receives another drug with psychoactive properties.”
Questions remain unanswered in the research field, including the optimal dose, route of administration and number of doses of ketamine treatment.
There is also a need for further research on the added and interactive benefit of psychotherapy alongside ketamine treatment.
– The study, Ketamine for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders: comprehensive systematic review, is published in the journal British Journal of Psychiatry Open.