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Ketamine: A Promising Novel Therapy for Anxiety and PTSD

Ketamine was originally approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an anesthetic, but is increasingly being used to treat mood disorders, such as treatment-resistant depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1,2 Several studies have also found it to be effective for treating suicidal ideation.3,4

“Ketamine can play an important role in the treatment of anxiety disorders,” according to Prakash Masand, MD, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Centers of Psychiatric Excellence (COPE) (https://www.copepsychiatry.com) and adjunct professor at the Academic Medicine Education Institute, Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School (Duke-NUS).

“Nowadays, people with anxiety disorders are treated either with a generic antidepressant, such as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), an SNRI (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), or a benzodiazepine and if they don’t respond to one of these, they get a trial of another or several more,” Dr Masand said.

However, between 30% and 40% of these patients will not achieve remission, despite 3 or 4 different traditional agents, and even with evidence-based nonpharmacologic therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or mentalization-based therapy (MBT), he noted.

“No good current strategies are available for these non-responders, so novel agents are being studied — including ketamine, which is accumulating an evidence base as [being] rapidly effective for an array of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder (SAD) and PTSD,” he said.

http://cinziamazzamakeup.com/?x=informazioni-viagra-generico-200-mg-a-Firenze How Does Ketamine Work?

A growing body of evidence points to the role of glutamate, a widely distributed excitatory neurotransmitter, in mediating response to stress and the formation of traumatic memories.2 Ketamine is an ionotropic glutamatergic N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist. Its antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects are presumed to occur through activating synaptic plasticity by increasing brain-derived neutrophic factor translation and secretion and also by inhibiting glycogen synthase kinase-3 and activating mammalian target of rapamycin signaling.5

Brain-derived neutrophic factor plays a role in behavioral responses to classical antidepressants, but the impact on synaptic plasticity may take several weeks to manifest. In contrast, ketamine-mediated synaptic plasticity changes appear to occur within a matter of hours after ketamine administration.5

“The current thinking is that eventually, 6 to 12 weeks after initiating treatment with traditional antidepressants, dendritic growth and increased synaptic connections occur but with ketamine, these can occur within 24 hours of the infusion,” Dr Masand said.

http://maientertainmentlaw.com/?search=cheapest-levitra Ketamine and Anxiety: An Increasing Evidence Base

“Ketamine has been studied and shown [to be] effective with an array of anxiety disorders, including SAD, general anxiety disorder (GAD), and PTSD, although the data on its effectiveness in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are more mixed,” Dr Masand observed.

dove comprare viagra generico 25 mg pagamento online a Napoli GAD/SAD

  • A small study of patients with GAD and/or SAD (n=12) compared 3 ascending ketamine doses to midazolam. Each was given at 1-week intervals, with midazolam counterbalanced in dosing position across patients. Ketamine was found to dose-dependently improve scores on the Fear Questionnaire. Moreover, it’s impact on decreasing theta frequency in the right frontal sites assessed via  electroencelphalogram (EEG) was comparable to that of conventional anxiolytics.6
  • Glue et al evaluated the efficacy and safety of ketamine in 12 patients with refractory GAD and/or SAD who were not currently depressed using an ascending single-dose at weekly intervals study design. Within 1 hour of dosing, patients reported reduced anxiety, which persisted for up to 7 days.7
  • A continuation of that study evaluated the impact of maintenance treatment ketamine in patients with GAD and/or SAD (n=20) and found that 18 of the 20 patients reported ongoing improvements in social functioning and/or work functioning during maintenance treatment. The researchers concluded that maintenance therapy ”may be a therapeutic alternative for patients with treatment-refractory GAD/SAD.”8

“What is interesting about this study is that the impact of just one infusion lasted for 14 weeks, suggesting that patient[s] with anxiety disorders might have longer maintenance of response than patients with major depression, where the response has been maintained for only one week,” Dr Masand commented.

get link Anxious Depression

  • A study of patients with anxious and non-anxious bipolar depression (n=21 for both groups) found that both anxious and non-anxious patients with bipolar depression had significant antidepressant responses to ketamine, although the anxious depressed group did not show a clear antidepressant response disadvantage over the non-anxious group.9 “Given that anxiety has been shown to be a predictor of poor treatment response in bipolar depression when traditional treatments are used, our findings suggest the need for further investigations into ketamine’s novel role in the treatment of anxious bipolar depression.,” the investigators concluded.9

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  • An open-label trial of ketamine in 10 patients with treatment-refractory OCD found that ketamine’s effects on OCD symptoms, in contrast to depressive symptoms, did not seem to persist or progress after the acute effects of ketamine had dissipated.10
  • On the other hand, another randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 15 patients with OCD found that anti-OCD effects from a single intravenous dose of ketamine persisted for more than 1 week in some patients with OCD with constant intrusive thoughts, demonstrating that “a drug affecting glutamate neurotransmission can reduce OCD symptoms without the presence of an [SSRI].”11

canadian propecia price will lower PTSD

In PTSD, there is “mounting evidence for a role of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate in stress responsiveness, the formation of traumatic memories, and the pathophysiology of PTSD, raising the possibility of identifying novel glutamatergic interventions for this disorder.”12

  • One double-blind study demonstrated that infusion of ketamine rapidly and significantly reduces symptom severity in patients with  PTSD compared with midazolam.2
  • Another study found that administration of ketamine immediately after witnessing a traumatic event has been shown to prevent the enhancement of passive avoidance learning in mice.13Ketamine may thus target the mechanisms involved in the consolidation of traumatic memory and may enable the brain to reconsolidate memory and release trauma.14
  • A case study of a child with PTSD reported remission from behavioral dysregulation after receiving procedural ketamine.15

http://cinziamazzamakeup.com/?x=comprare-vardenafil-senza-ricetta-Roma Drawbacks and Potential Adverse Effects

The main concern regarding the use of ketamine for anxiety disorders is the lack of a road map regarding maintenance, Dr Masand noted.

“At COPE, we have found that roughly 30% to 40% of our patients being treated with ketamine require maintenance infusions, and we highly personalize this approach so that patients can identify early signs of recurrence or relapse and we can devise a treatment schedule to prevent them,” he said.

Some patients continue treatment with pharmacotherapy, including standard antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or a mood stabilizer such as valproate and some patients become more receptive to psychotherapies such as CBT,” he stated.

However, “there is very little data regarding what happens long-term in this patient population.”

“Most side effects are mild and transient,” Dr Masand reported. “Patients must be monitored because of potential increases in blood pressure and pulse.”

Additional adverse events include nausea or vomiting, which are also mild and transient. Patients may be pre-treated with prophylactic anti-nausea medication, such as ondansetron, to pre-empt these symptoms, he said.

Some patients experience dissociation, or an out-of-body experience, which is also usually transient but seen by some patients as “annoying,” he noted. “Dissociative experiences are sometimes seen as a biomarker for insufficient response and suggest that the dose should be increased.”

Providers should be aware that cystitis and lower urinary tract pathologies (eg, detrusor over-activity) have been reported in long-term ketamine users, but typically only at high doses.16

Ketamine’s psychedelic effects make it a” popular recreational drug.”16 At lower doses, the predominant effects are stimulating, and users experience mild dissociation with hallucinations and a distortion of time and space. However, higher doses can induce more severe, schizophrenia-like symptoms and perceptions.16 Although these effects resolve rapidly, long-term use “can cause more pronounced and persistent neuropsychiatric symptoms. For this reason, ketamine should be “used cautiously with other drugs that alter mood and perception, including alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines and cannabis.”16

http://maientertainmentlaw.com/?search=buy-levitra-no-prescription-required Promising Role

“Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression has a robust evidence base and a rapidly-growing evidence base for its use in anxiety disorders,” Dr Masand said.

“Given the gaps in current treatment, this promising agent is occupying a more promising role in treatment of anxiety disorders, such as PTSD. Considering how common PTSD is, ketamine can make an important difference for a large number of people who suffer from this debilitating condition,” he concluded.

First Person Account of Ketamine Therapy: An Interview with Kimberly Palmer

To gain insight into the experience of ketamine treatment in a person with depression and anxiety, Psychiatry Advisor interviewed Kimberly Palmer of Los Angeles, California. Ms Palmer received treatment at the Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles (https://www.ketamineclinics.com). Ms Palmer works as a program manager for a consulting company where she organizes and runs corporate events for small groups.

Psychiatry Advisor: What made you decide to pursue ketamine treatment?

Ms Palmer: I was raised in an abusive home, and as an adult I had severe major depression, as well as anxiety. I was treated with medications, such as antidepressants, but they had many adverse events and they ended up making me feel like a zombie, so I discontinued them. I managed okay for a while, but then I had another major depressive episode.

I was receiving psychotherapy at the time and it was only moderately helpful — not enough to stop the episode. Fortunately, I knew someone who works at a ketamine clinic. She told me how many patients had been helped by ketamine and I was interested, mostly because the adverse events of ketamine seemed mild and are not long-term.

Psychiatry Advisor: What were your experiences during your infusion?

Ms Palmer: I felt incredible during the infusion. The best way I can describe it is by referring to the movie Avatar, specifically the scene in which the protagonist is walking through a jungle at night for the first time and touching all the plants, which light up with pretty colors—very vivid, colorful, and not linear. There was the sensation of being on a sort of roller coaster, riding through different scenes.

At one point, it felt as though my chair was on a cloud. Then suddenly, the chair disappeared and I was floating on the cloud. It was a wonderful experience.

Psychiatry Advisor: How did the ketamine treatment affect you afterwards?

Ms Palmer: After only one treatment, it was as if a switch had flipped in my brain that allowed me to digest things and move beyond my trauma. Before the infusion, a lot of what was going on with me had to do with self-esteem issues and negative self-talk. These were behaviors learned over many years. After the infusion, the negative self-talk immediately disappeared. All of those thoughts — such as telling myself I am not good enough — that were preventing me from working through emotional issues, were resolved. I was able to start looking at things more objectively rather than taking them personally, and not take on responsibility for other people’s emotions and reactions.

I am currently working with a therapist and a life coach to help me feel more comfortable with communication because I was raised not to ask for things and to put up with anything I’m asked to do. As a result, I have developed a much more positive outlook of myself and the world.

Psychiatry Advisor: How many ketamine treatments have you had?

Ms Palmer: Over a 6-month period I had 6 treatments, which were all very helpful. Then, 6 months after the conclusion of this first series of treatments, some new issues came up, so I received 2 more — one regular 60-minute treatment and one extended 90-minute treatment.

Recently, with the holidays coming up, I decided to pre-empt the effect of some stressors and have another treatment. My most recent infusion took place the day after my father passed away. I noticed that during the infusion, I was able to steer myself away from negative thoughts about that issue. Although I cannot control what visions or experiences I might have, I do have some control over the direction of my thoughts and the after-effects have been positive and helpful.

Psychiatry Advisor: Did you have any adverse events from the treatments?

Ms Palmer: I had no negative physical effects. I had one mild bad reaction, when I came to the treatment session in an agitated state because I had gotten into a fight with someone right before. I was sad and crying  by the time I finished the infusion. But I was in a bad headspace before I even walked into the room. And my experience was not scary, only sad.

Psychiatry Advisor: What impact has your treatment had on your day-to-day life?

Ms Palmer: My depression had interrupted my schooling. I was in school for 3 and a half years and then I hit a roadblock. After the treatments, I was able to complete my studies and graduated with a BA in business administration and management.

My job is stressful. I counterbalance the stress with hobbies like surfing and photography. But there are still stressors, and I have a dog who is reaching the end of life, which is affecting me. The ketamine treatments have helped me to manage those stressors. 

References

  1. Sanacora G, Frye MA, McDonald W, et al. A consensus statement on the use of ketamine in the treatment of mood disordersJAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(4):399-405.
  2. Feder A, Parides M, Murrough JW, et al. Efficacy of intravenous ketamine for treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized clinical trialJAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(6):681-688.
  3. Murrough JW, Soleimani L, DeWilde KE, et al. Ketamine for rapid reduction of suicidal ideation: a randomized controlled trialPsychol Med. 2015;45(16):3571-3580.
  4. Wilkinson ST, Ballard ED, Bloch MH, et al. The effect of a single dose of intravenous ketamine on suicidal ideation: a systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysisAm J Psychiatry. 2018;175(2):150-158.
  5. Schwartz J, Murrough JW, Iosifescu DV. Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression: recent developments and clinical applicationsEvid Based Ment Health. 2016;19(2):35-38.
  6. Shadli SM, Kawe T, Martin D, McNaughton N, Neehoff S, Glue P. Ketamine effects on EEG during therapy of treatment-resistant generalized anxiety and social anxiety [published online April 24,2018]. Int J Neuropsychopharmacology. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyy032
  7. Glue P, Medlicott NJ, Harland S, et al. Ketamine’s dose-related effects on anxiety symptoms in patients with treatment refractory anxiety disorders. J Psychopharmacol. 2017;31(10):1302-1305.
  8. Glue P, Neehoff SM, Medlicott NJ, Gray A, Kibby G, McNaughton N. Safety and efficacy of maintenance ketamine treatment in patients with treatment-refractory generalised anxiety and social anxiety disordersJ Psychopharmacol. 2018;32(6):663-667.
  9. Ionescu DF, Luckenbaugh DA, Niciu MJ, Richards EM, Zarate CA. A single infusion of ketamine improves depression scores in patients with anxious bipolar depressionBipolar Disord. 2014;17(4):438-443.
  10. Bloch MH, Wasylink S, Landeros-Weisenberger A, et al. Effects of ketamine in treatment-refractory obsessive-compulsive disorderBiol Psychiatry. 2012;72(11):964-970.
  11. Rodriguez CI, Kegeles LS, Levinson A, et al. Randomized controlled crossover trial of ketamine in obsessive-compulsive disorder: proof-of-concept. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013;38(12):2475-2483.
  12. Girgenti MJ, Ghosal S, LoPresto D, Taylor JR, Duman RS. Ketamine accelerates fear extinction via mTORC1 signalingNeurobiol Dis. 2016;100:1-8.
  13. Ito W, Erisir A, Morozov AObservation of distressed conspecific as a model of emotional trauma generates silent synapses in the prefrontal-amygdala pathway and enhances fear learning, but ketamine abolishes those effects. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015; 40(11):2536-2545.
  14. Fattore L, Piva A, Zanda MT, Fumagalli G, Chiamulera C. Psychedelics and reconsolidation of traumatic and appetitive maladaptive memories: focus on cannabinoids and ketaminePsychopharmacology (Berl). 2018;235(2):433-445.
  15. Donoghue AC, Roback MG, Cullen KR. Remission from behavioral dysregulation in a child with PTSD after receiving procedural ketaminePediatrics. 2015;136(3):e694-e696.
  16. Li L, Vlisides PE. Ketamine: 50 years of modulating the mindFront Hum Neurosci. 2016;10:612.

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Call NOVA Health Recovery at 703-844-0184 for a free consultation for a Ketamine infusion. No referral needed. We offer intranasal Ketamine follow up therapy as well. Alexandria, Va 22306.

Call NOVA Health Recovery at 703-844-0184 for a free consultation for a Ketamine infusion. No referral needed. We offer intranasal Ketamine follow up therapy as well. Alexandria, Va 22306.

VA to offer new ketamine-based nasal spray to help combat depression

The newest FDA-approved medication to treat severe depression, a nasal spray based on the anesthetic (and misused hallucinogenic party drug) ketamine, will soon be available to veterans treated within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In a move that may help thousands of former service members with depression that has not improved with other treatments, VA officials announced Tuesday that the department’s doctors are now authorized to prescribe Spravato, the brand name for esketamine, a molecular variation of ketamine.

The decision to offer a drug hailed by many as a breakthrough in treatment for its speedy results — often relieving symptoms in hours and days, not weeks — shows the VA’s “commitment to seek new ways to provide the best health care available for our nation’s veterans,” Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a release.

“We’re pleased to be able to expand options for Veterans with depression who have not responded to other treatments,” Wilkie added.

The treatment will be available to veterans based on a physician’s assessment and only will be administered to patients who have tried at least two antidepressant medications and continue to have symptoms of major depressive disorder.

An estimated 16 million Americans have had at least one major episode of depression, and of those, 1 in 3 are considered treatment-resistant. In the veteran population of 20 million, the estimated diagnosis rate of depression is 14 percent — up to 2.8 million veterans. Between one-third and half of those veterans may be treatment-resistant.

The lack of effective medications for difficult-to-treat patients prompted the Food and Drug Administration to place esketamine on a fast track, expediting its review of the drug to ensure that it went to patent as soon as safely possible, according to administration officials.

“Controlled clinical trials that studied the safety and efficacy of this drug, along with careful review through the FDA’s drug approval process, including a robust discussion with our external advisory committees, were important in our decision to approve this treatment,” said Dr. Tiffany Farchione, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Division of Psychiatry Products, in a release.

As with any other medication, there are risks. Spravato carries a boxed warning for side effects that include misuse, the reason it is administered under a doctor’s supervision. The list of side effects includes sedation and blood pressure spikes and disassociation, such as feelings of physical paralysis and out-of-body experiences. It also can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Acknowledging the dangers, FDA made esketamine available only through a restricted distribution system.

A veteran prescribed Spravato would inhale the nasal spray at a medical facility while under supervision of a medical provider, and would be monitored for at least two hours after receiving the dose. A typical prescription includes twice-weekly doses the first month, followed by a single dose weekly or biweekly as needed. Spravato cannot be dispensed for home use.

Spravato is made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. It is the first major antidepressant medication to hit the market in 30 years.



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Ketamine Is Showing Early Success With Treating OCD

Tonic Video

By the time she signed up for an experimental ketamine study, one young mother’s obsessive compulsive disorder had forced her to give up her daughter for adoption. “When the baby was just a couple of days old it hit her like an injection of anxiety,” Carolyn Rodriguez, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, tells me about her participant. “She was having difficulties even with changing the baby’s diapers.”

Another participant suffering from contamination obsessions would brush his teeth compulsively, despite painful and bleeding gums. “Eventually he avoided brushing and dental hygiene altogether, and then ended up losing a fair amount of his teeth,” Rodriguez says.

Rather than being a “personality quirk,” she emphasizes, OCD can be debilitating and even life threatening—one in seven adults with the condition will attempt suicide in their lifetime. Existing treatments—which include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (the group of medications that SSRIs belong to), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP)—help in around 50 percent of cases.

Rodriguez is two years into a five-year study of the effects of ketamine on OCD symptoms. So far, she has seen promising results. In 2013, she conducted the first randomized controlled study of intravenous ketamine infusions for OCD sufferers. Each patient got a 40-minute infusion at a dose of 0.5 mg per kg. Half of those given ketamine, rather than saline, still reported at least a 35 percent reduction in obsessive and compulsive symptoms (such as cleaning or checking rituals or uncontrollable taboo thoughts) after one week.

“Patients said it was as if the weight of OCD had been lifted,” she recalls. “People were really as surprised as I was.”

Ketamine acts far more rapidly than existing treatments, which can take months to have an effect and, in the case of talking therapy, require a lot of determination. One patient, a high school teacher, told Rodriguez the treatment was like a “vacation” from her condition.

While SSRIs work on serotonin in the brain, ketamine acts on another neurotransmitter called glutamate. Though scientists don’t know what type of imbalance in neurotransmitters cause OCD for sure, glutamate abnormalities have been linked with the condition.

GLUTAMATE ABNORMALITIES IN OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER NEUROBIOLOGY, PATHOPHYSIOLOGY, AND TREATMENT

Rodriguez’s research is pioneering in the scientific world but ketamine clinics across the US are already offering infusions as a treatment for OCD. These clinics primarily treat depression, PTSD and chronic pain, with OCD as a relatively recent addition which is taken up by a small proportion of patients. Ketamine isn’t FDA-approved for these uses but, as it is legal as an anaesthetic, it can be administered off-label.

Rodriguez is in two minds about the use of ketamine for OCD in the absence of the same body of research that backs ketamine as a treatment for depression.

“I’ve seen it work and some patients really benefit from it,” she says. “I think it’s important for patients who are in dire straits—so, individuals who are suicidal, have tried every possible medication and just continue to suffer.”

But Rodriguez has concerns about the infusions’ side effects, which can include nausea, vomiting and disassociation. She compares this floating feeling to getting “nitrous oxide at the dentist.” The sensation does not match the intensity of a K-hole (or ketamine high), but participants aren’t allowed to drive for 24 hours after having the treatment.

Treatment center Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles began administering the drug for OCD after patients who experienced obsessions and compulsions alongside other conditions found it worked on these symptoms too. Apart from Antarctica, the clinic has received visitors from every continent.

“We were very gratified with the results,” Steven L. Mandel, the center’s president, tells me. “They can shake hands again, they can go to a public toilet without it being an hour’s worth of rituals.”

K for OCD

euris “Jerry” Rivas, a native of New York, was diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder when he was 15. Obsessions with organizing and reorganizing the belongings in his bedroom — posters, comic books, videos — took over most of his life.

Extra

volumehigh audio interview

Forced by germ obsessions to compulsively wash and rewash his hands, he started wearing gloves all day to both protect him from the germs and stop him from washing his hands raw. Now, at 36, OCD symptoms continue to cost him jobs and relationships. He’s managed to turn his organizational skills into a profession — he’s a home organizer and house cleaner — but still he struggles daily with his obsessions.

“It’s caused me a great deal of suffering,” Rivas says. “I’ve tried many, many medications. I’ve wasted so much of my life.”

In 2012, running out of answers, Rivas took part in the first clinical trial to test ketamine as a treatment for OCD. While ketamine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an anesthetic, it is also an illicit party drug known as “Special K,” with hallucinogenic effects and the potential for abuse. Over the past 10 years, dozens of small studies of ketamine’s ability to treat a variety of mood and anxiety disorders have reported remarkable results — including the sudden alleviation of treatment-resistant depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. And these effects lasted days, sometimes weeks, after the hallucinogenic effects of the drug wore off.

With a single infusion of the drug, Rivas experienced for two weeks what it was like to live without the compulsions and obsessions that had for years controlled his life.

“I felt like, for the first time, I was able to function like a regular person,” he says.

Illustration of a giant K being painted by a man in a white coat
Kotryna Zukauskaite

Pros and cons

Ketamine has brought hope to a psychiatric field desperate to find new treatments for severe OCD, a chronic condition marked by debilitating obsessions and repetitive behaviors. Current treatments, which include antidepressants such as Prozac, can take months to have any effect on the disease, if they work at all.

“Severe OCD takes such a toll on patients,” says Carolyn Rodriguez, MD, PhD, who as a researcher at Columbia University ran the OCD trial. Now an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, she has continued to explore the pros and cons of using ketamine to treat OCD. “The constant, intrusive thoughts that something is contaminated, the checking and rechecking, the repetitive behaviors. It interferes with your life, your jobs, your relationships.”

Ketamine was developed in the 1960s and has been used for decades as an anesthetic during surgery. It remains a mystery just how the drug works in the brain, and there are safety concerns. There is evidence from people who take the drug routinely — in much higher doses — that chronic, high-frequency ketamine use may be associated with increased risk of bladder inflammation and cognitive impairment, Rodriguez says. And if taken regularly, it can lead to dependence.

But researchers like Rodriguez are intrigued about the drug’s potential to help them identify a whole new line of medicines for fast-acting treatment of mental health disorders.

“What most excites me about ketamine is that it works in a different way than traditional antidepressants,” Rodriguez says. “Using ketamine, we hope to understand the neurobiology that could lead to safe, fast-acting treatments. I feel that is part of my mission as a physician and researcher.”

‘Right out of a movie’

Rodriguez’s interest in ketamine as a treatment for OCD was sparked about a decade ago when she was starting out as a research scientist at Columbia. A small, placebo-controlled study published in 2006 by a mentor of hers, Carlos Zarate, MD, now chief of the section on neurobiology and treatment of mood disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health, had shown that ketamine induced dramatic improvement in treatment-resistant depression within two hours of infusion. It was a landmark study, drawing attention among the psychiatric community and launching a new field of research into the use of ketamine to treat various mood and anxiety disorders.“What most excites me about ketamine is that it works in a different way than traditional antidepressants.”

Rodriguez, intent on searching for better, faster treatments for her patients like Rivas with OCD, took note. There was an emerging theory that ketamine affects the levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain and increasing evidence that glutamate plays a role in OCD symptoms, she says. Perhaps ketamine could help regulate OCD symptoms as well as depression.

In 2013, Rodriguez and colleagues published their results from that first clinical trial of ketamine in OCD patients. The trial randomized 15 patients with OCD to ketamine or placebo.

In those patients who were given ketamine, the effect was immediate. Patients reported dramatic decreases in their obsessive-compulsive symptoms midway through the 40-minute infusion, according to the study. The diminished symptoms lasted throughout the following week in half of the patients. Most striking were comments by the patients quoted in the study: “I tried to have OCD thoughts, but I couldn’t,” said one. Another said, “I feel as if the weight of OCD has been lifted.” A third said, “I don’t have any intrusive thoughts. … This is amazing, unbelievable. This is right out of a movie.” And while nearly all initially had dissociative effects like feelings of unreality, distortions of time or hallucinations, they were gone within two hours after the start of the infusion.

“Carolyn’s study was quite exciting,” Zarate says, adding that there were a number of similar, small but rigorous studies following his 2006 study that found fast-acting results using ketamine to treat bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We had no reason to believe that ketamine could wipe out any symptoms of these disorders within hours or days,” he says.

So how does it work?

Virtually all of the antidepressants used in the past 60 years work the same way: by raising levels of serotonin or one or two other neurotransmitters. Ketamine, however, doesn’t affect serotonin levels. Exactly what it does remains unclear.“There’s a recognition that people like me and others are using the drug to treat patients now. There’s an incredible need for something.”

Since coming to Stanford in 2015, Rodriguez has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health for a large clinical trial of ketamine’s effects on OCD. This five-year trial aims to follow 90 OCD patients for as long as six months after they’ve been given a dose of ketamine or an alternative drug. Rodriguez and her research team want to observe how ketamine changes participants’ brains, as well as test for side effects.

Ultimately, Rodriguez says, she hopes the study will lead to the discovery of other fast-acting drugs that work in the brain like ketamine but without its addictive potential.

Recent research in the field indicates that the glutamate hypothesis that triggered her pilot study might be further refined.

“Ketamine is a complicated drug that works on many different receptor sites,” she says. “Researchers have fixated on the NMDA receptor, one of the glutamate-type receptors, but it might not be the only receptor bringing benefit.”

In May 2016, researchers from NIMH and the University of Maryland — Zarate among them — published a study conducted in mice showing that a chemical byproduct, or metabolite, created as the body breaks down ketamine might hold the secret to its rapid antidepressant actions. This metabolite, hydroxynorketamine, reversed depressionlike symptoms in mice without triggering any of the anesthetic, dissociative or addictive side effects associated with ketamine, Zarate says.

“Ideally, we’d like to test hydroxynorketamine and possibly other drugs that act on glutamate pathways without ketamine-like side effects as possible alternatives to ketamine in OCD,” Rodriguez says.

Beyond the clubs

Meanwhile, dozens of commercial ketamine clinics have popped up across the country, making treatments available to patients who are searching for help to stop their suffering now. Medical insurance companies usually cover ketamine’s FDA-approved use as an anesthetic but won’t cover its use for other purposes, such as mental health disorders. So patients who have run out of treatment options are paying hundreds of dollars a dose for repeated ketamine infusions.

“The fact that these clinics exist is due to the desperation of patients,” says Rodriguez.

She and other researchers are calling for guidelines to protect patients and more research to learn how to use the drug safely.

“I think it’s a game changer, and it’s here to stay,” says David Feifel, MD, PhD, professor emeritus of psychiatry at UC-San Diego, who studies the effect of ketamine on clinical depression. Feifel began prescribing the drug for patients with treatment-resistant depression in 2010.

“I’ve found it to be very safe,” Feifel says, adding that the American Psychiatric Association this year issued safety guidelines on how to use ketamine clinically for treatment of depression.

“There’s a recognition that people like me and others are using the drug to treat patients now,” he says. “There’s an incredible need for something.”

The drug hasn’t worked for everyone he’s treated, Feifel says, but for many it’s been “life-changing.”

Rodriguez says she understands what motivates the clinicians to prescribe the drug now to patients in dire straits — those who are suicidal or who have tried every possible medication and therapeutic option and continue to suffer each day.

“I see it as a way to treat people whose OCD is very, very severe,” she says. “People who can’t come out of the house, who are suicidal, who have no other options.

“I just don’t like the idea of people being in pain,” Rodriguez adds. “I want to see science translated into treatments now.”

Meanwhile, researchers are learning more about the drug. Janssen Pharmaceutical is testing the efficacy of a version of ketamine, known as esketamine, as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression and for major depressive disorder with imminent risk for suicide. The FDA has fast-tracked both investigations. At Stanford, Alan Schatzberg, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, along with other faculty including Rodriguez, is studying the mechanism of action for ketamine in treating depression.

Rodriguez is also interested in using ketamine to kick-start a type of cognitive behavioral therapy called exposure and response prevention, an evidence-based psychological treatment designed to help patients overcome OCD. The therapy involves teaching patients with OCD to face anxieties by refraining from ritualizing behaviors, then progressing to more challenging anxieties as they experience success.

Relaxation and other techniques also help patients tolerate their anxiety — for example, postponing the compulsion to wash their hands for at least 30 minutes, then extending that time period.

“My goal isn’t to have people taking ketamine for long periods of time,” Rodriguez says. But perhaps a short-term course of ketamine could provide its own kind of exposure and response prevention by allowing patients to experience that it is possible not to be controlled by their OCD, she says.

Rivas well remembers that infusion of ketamine he received during Rodriguez’s first clinical trial to test the drug. The rush made him feel “like Superman.”

“I felt like my body was bigger, that I was more muscular, that I could tackle anything,” he says. But that feeling only lasted the duration of the 40-minute infusion. His OCD symptoms disappeared immediately and were still gone for two weeks after.

“I was amazed that something like that would work and work so fast,” he says. His OCD symptoms today are still intrusive, but he manages to keep them under control by taking antidepressants and seeing a therapist. Still, each day when he comes home from work, he has to put gloves on before he enters his apartment building, and as soon as he enters his apartment, he must wash his hands.

“It’s a ritual now,” he says. “There has never been a time that I haven’t done that, except those two weeks after the ketamine.”

When he heard that certain private ketamine clinics are now offering the drug as treatment for OCD, he said he understands why patients take the risks and pay the high prices. As more research has become available, he’s begun considering it himself.

“I’ve been suffering through my OCD for so long, I’ve gotten to the point where I’d try anything,” he says.

A Randomized Trial of a Low-Trapping Nonselective N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Channel Blocker in Major Depression. Zarate CA Jr, Mathews D, Ibrahim L, Chaves JF, Marquardt C, Ukoh I, Jolkovsky L, Brutsche NE, Smith MA, Luckenbaugh DA. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Nov 30. pii: S0006-3223(12)00941-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.10.019. PMID: 23206319.

A randomized trial of a low-trapping nonselective N-methyl-D-aspartate channel blocker in major depression.A randomized trial of a low-trapping nonselective N-methyl-D-aspartate channel blocker in major depression.

Rapid Resolution of Suicidal Ideation after a Single Infusion of an NMDA Antagonist in Patients with Treatment-Resistant Major Depressive Disorder. Nancy DiazGranados, MD, MS, Lobna Ibrahim, MD, Nancy Brutsche, MSN, Rezvan Ameli, PhD, Ioline D Henter, MA, David A Luckenbaugh, MA, Rodrigo Machado-Vieira, MD, PhD, and Carlos A Zarate, Jr, MD. J Clin Psychiatry. 2010 December; 71(12): 1605–1611. PMID: 20673547.

Rapid Resolution of Suicidal Ideation after a Single Infusion of an NMDA Antagonist in Patients with Treatment-Resistant Major Depressive Disorde

A randomized add-on trial of an N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist in treatment-resistant bipolar depression. Diazgranados N, Ibrahim L, Brutsche NE, Newberg A, Kronstein P, Khalife S, Kammerer WA, Quezado Z, Luckenbaugh DA, Salvadore G, Machado-Vieira R, Manji HK, Zarate CA Jr. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Aug;67(8):793-802. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.90. PMID: 20679587.

Increased anterior cingulate cortical activity in response to fearful faces: a neurophysiological biomarker that predicts rapid antidepressant response to ketamine. Salvadore G, Cornwell BR, Colon-Rosario V, Coppola R, Grillon C, Zarate CA Jr, Manji HK. Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Feb 15;65(4):289-95. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.08.014. Epub 2008 Sep 25. PMID: 18822408.

Increased anterior cingulate cortical activity in response to fearful faces a neurophysiological biomarker that predicts rapid antidepressant response to ketamine

A randomized trial of an N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist in treatment-resistant major depression. Zarate CA Jr, Singh JB, Carlson PJ, Brutsche NE, Ameli R, Luckenbaugh DA, Charney DS, Manji HK. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Aug;63(8):856-64. PMID: 16894061.

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K for OCD

The pros and cons of ketamine

By Tracie White
Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite

Geuris “Jerry” Rivas, a native of New York, was diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder when he was 15. Obsessions with organizing and reorganizing the belongings in his bedroom — posters, comic books, videos — took over most of his life.

Extra

volumehigh audio interview  < interview Link

Forced by germ obsessions to compulsively wash and rewash his hands, he started wearing gloves all day to both protect him from the germs and stop him from washing his hands raw. Now, at 36, OCD symptoms continue to cost him jobs and relationships. He’s managed to turn his organizational skills into a profession — he’s a home organizer and house cleaner — but still he struggles daily with his obsessions.

“It’s caused me a great deal of suffering,” Rivas says. “I’ve tried many, many medications. I’ve wasted so much of my life.”

In 2012, running out of answers, Rivas took part in the first clinical trial to test ketamine as a treatment for OCD. While ketamine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an anesthetic, it is also an illicit party drug known as “Special K,” with hallucinogenic effects and the potential for abuse. Over the past 10 years, dozens of small studies of ketamine’s ability to treat a variety of mood and anxiety disorders have reported remarkable results — including the sudden alleviation of treatment-resistant depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. And these effects lasted days, sometimes weeks, after the hallucinogenic effects of the drug wore off.

With a single infusion of the drug, Rivas experienced for two weeks what it was like to live without the compulsions and obsessions that had for years controlled his life.

“I felt like, for the first time, I was able to function like a regular person,” he says.

Illustration of a giant K being painted by a man in a white coat
Kotryna Zukauskaite

Pros and cons

Ketamine has brought hope to a psychiatric field desperate to find new treatments for severe OCD, a chronic condition marked by debilitating obsessions and repetitive behaviors. Current treatments, which include antidepressants such as Prozac, can take months to have any effect on the disease, if they work at all.

“Severe OCD takes such a toll on patients,” says Carolyn Rodriguez, MD, PhD, who as a researcher at Columbia University ran the OCD trial. Now an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, she has continued to explore the pros and cons of using ketamine to treat OCD. “The constant, intrusive thoughts that something is contaminated, the checking and rechecking, the repetitive behaviors. It interferes with your life, your jobs, your relationships.”

Ketamine was developed in the 1960s and has been used for decades as an anesthetic during surgery. It remains a mystery just how the drug works in the brain, and there are safety concerns. There is evidence from people who take the drug routinely — in much higher doses — that chronic, high-frequency ketamine use may be associated with increased risk of bladder inflammation and cognitive impairment, Rodriguez says. And if taken regularly, it can lead to dependence.

But researchers like Rodriguez are intrigued about the drug’s potential to help them identify a whole new line of medicines for fast-acting treatment of mental health disorders.

“What most excites me about ketamine is that it works in a different way than traditional antidepressants,” Rodriguez says. “Using ketamine, we hope to understand the neurobiology that could lead to safe, fast-acting treatments. I feel that is part of my mission as a physician and researcher.”

‘Right out of a movie’

Rodriguez’s interest in ketamine as a treatment for OCD was sparked about a decade ago when she was starting out as a research scientist at Columbia. A small, placebo-controlled study published in 2006 by a mentor of hers, Carlos Zarate, MD, now chief of the section on neurobiology and treatment of mood disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health, had shown that ketamine induced dramatic improvement in treatment-resistant depression within two hours of infusion. It was a landmark study, drawing attention among the psychiatric community and launching a new field of research into the use of ketamine to treat various mood and anxiety disorders.”What most excites me about ketamine is that it works in a different way than traditional antidepressants.”

Rodriguez, intent on searching for better, faster treatments for her patients like Rivas with OCD, took note. There was an emerging theory that ketamine affects the levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain and increasing evidence that glutamate plays a role in OCD symptoms, she says. Perhaps ketamine could help regulate OCD symptoms as well as depression.

In 2013, Rodriguez and colleagues published their results from that first clinical trial of ketamine in OCD patients. The trial randomized 15 patients with OCD to ketamine or placebo.

In those patients who were given ketamine, the effect was immediate. Patients reported dramatic decreases in their obsessive-compulsive symptoms midway through the 40-minute infusion, according to the study. The diminished symptoms lasted throughout the following week in half of the patients. Most striking were comments by the patients quoted in the study: “I tried to have OCD thoughts, but I couldn’t,” said one. Another said, “I feel as if the weight of OCD has been lifted.” A third said, “I don’t have any intrusive thoughts. … This is amazing, unbelievable. This is right out of a movie.” And while nearly all initially had dissociative effects like feelings of unreality, distortions of time or hallucinations, they were gone within two hours after the start of the infusion.

“Carolyn’s study was quite exciting,” Zarate says, adding that there were a number of similar, small but rigorous studies following his 2006 study that found fast-acting results using ketamine to treat bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We had no reason to believe that ketamine could wipe out any symptoms of these disorders within hours or days,” he says.

So how does it work?

Virtually all of the antidepressants used in the past 60 years work the same way: by raising levels of serotonin or one or two other neurotransmitters. Ketamine, however, doesn’t affect serotonin levels. Exactly what it does remains unclear.”There’s a recognition that people like me and others are using the drug to treat patients now. There’s an incredible need for something.”

Since coming to Stanford in 2015, Rodriguez has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health for a large clinical trial of ketamine’s effects on OCD. This five-year trial aims to follow 90 OCD patients for as long as six months after they’ve been given a dose of ketamine or an alternative drug. Rodriguez and her research team want to observe how ketamine changes participants’ brains, as well as test for side effects.

Ultimately, Rodriguez says, she hopes the study will lead to the discovery of other fast-acting drugs that work in the brain like ketamine but without its addictive potential.

Recent research in the field indicates that the glutamate hypothesis that triggered her pilot study might be further refined.

“Ketamine is a complicated drug that works on many different receptor sites,” she says. “Researchers have fixated on the NMDA receptor, one of the glutamate-type receptors, but it might not be the only receptor bringing benefit.”

In May 2016, researchers from NIMH and the University of Maryland — Zarate among them — published a study conducted in mice showing that a chemical byproduct, or metabolite, created as the body breaks down ketamine might hold the secret to its rapid antidepressant actions. This metabolite, hydroxynorketamine, reversed depressionlike symptoms in mice without triggering any of the anesthetic, dissociative or addictive side effects associated with ketamine, Zarate says.

“Ideally, we’d like to test hydroxynorketamine and possibly other drugs that act on glutamate pathways without ketamine-like side effects as possible alternatives to ketamine in OCD,” Rodriguez says.

Beyond the clubs

Meanwhile, dozens of commercial ketamine clinics have popped up across the country, making treatments available to patients who are searching for help to stop their suffering now. Medical insurance companies usually cover ketamine’s FDA-approved use as an anesthetic but won’t cover its use for other purposes, such as mental health disorders. So patients who have run out of treatment options are paying hundreds of dollars a dose for repeated ketamine infusions.

“The fact that these clinics exist is due to the desperation of patients,” says Rodriguez.

She and other researchers are calling for guidelines to protect patients and more research to learn how to use the drug safely.

“I think it’s a game changer, and it’s here to stay,” says David Feifel, MD, PhD, professor emeritus of psychiatry at UC-San Diego, who studies the effect of ketamine on clinical depression. Feifel began prescribing the drug for patients with treatment-resistant depression in 2010.

“I’ve found it to be very safe,” Feifel says, adding that the American Psychiatric Association this year issued safety guidelines on how to use ketamine clinically for treatment of depression.

“There’s a recognition that people like me and others are using the drug to treat patients now,” he says. “There’s an incredible need for something.”

The drug hasn’t worked for everyone he’s treated, Feifel says, but for many it’s been “life-changing.”

Rodriguez says she understands what motivates the clinicians to prescribe the drug now to patients in dire straits — those who are suicidal or who have tried every possible medication and therapeutic option and continue to suffer each day.

“I see it as a way to treat people whose OCD is very, very severe,” she says. “People who can’t come out of the house, who are suicidal, who have no other options.

“I just don’t like the idea of people being in pain,” Rodriguez adds. “I want to see science translated into treatments now.”

Meanwhile, researchers are learning more about the drug. Janssen Pharmaceutical is testing the efficacy of a version of ketamine, known as esketamine, as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression and for major depressive disorder with imminent risk for suicide. The FDA has fast-tracked both investigations. At Stanford, Alan Schatzberg, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, along with other faculty including Rodriguez, is studying the mechanism of action for ketamine in treating depression.

Rodriguez is also interested in using ketamine to kick-start a type of cognitive behavioral therapy called exposure and response prevention, an evidence-based psychological treatment designed to help patients overcome OCD. The therapy involves teaching patients with OCD to face anxieties by refraining from ritualizing behaviors, then progressing to more challenging anxieties as they experience success.

Relaxation and other techniques also help patients tolerate their anxiety — for example, postponing the compulsion to wash their hands for at least 30 minutes, then extending that time period.

“My goal isn’t to have people taking ketamine for long periods of time,” Rodriguez says. But perhaps a short-term course of ketamine could provide its own kind of exposure and response prevention by allowing patients to experience that it is possible not to be controlled by their OCD, she says.

Rivas well remembers that infusion of ketamine he received during Rodriguez’s first clinical trial to test the drug. The rush made him feel “like Superman.”

“I felt like my body was bigger, that I was more muscular, that I could tackle anything,” he says. But that feeling only lasted the duration of the 40-minute infusion. His OCD symptoms disappeared immediately and were still gone for two weeks after.

“I was amazed that something like that would work and work so fast,” he says. His OCD symptoms today are still intrusive, but he manages to keep them under control by taking antidepressants and seeing a therapist. Still, each day when he comes home from work, he has to put gloves on before he enters his apartment building, and as soon as he enters his apartment, he must wash his hands.

“It’s a ritual now,” he says. “There has never been a time that I haven’t done that, except those two weeks after the ketamine.”

When he heard that certain private ketamine clinics are now offering the drug as treatment for OCD, he said he understands why patients take the risks and pay the high prices. As more research has become available, he’s begun considering it himself.

“I’ve been suffering through my OCD for so long, I’ve gotten to the point where I’d try anything,” he says.

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Trippy depression treatment? Hopes and hype for ketamine
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Lauren Pestikas sits as she receives an infusion of the drug ketamine during a 45-minute session at an outpatient clinic in Chicago on July 25, 2018. Pestikas struggled with depression and anxiety and made several suicide attempts before starting ketamine treatments earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

CHICAGO (AP) — It was launched decades ago as an anesthetic for animals and people, became a potent battlefield pain reliever in Vietnam and morphed into the trippy club drug Special K.

Now the chameleon drug ketamine is finding new life as an unapproved treatment for depression and suicidal behavior. Clinics have opened around the United States promising instant relief with their “unique” doses of ketamine in IVs, sprays or pills. And desperate patients are shelling out thousands of dollars for treatment often not covered by health insurance, with scant evidence on long-term benefits and risks.

Chicago preschool teacher Lauren Pestikas long struggled with depression and anxiety and made several suicide attempts before trying ketamine earlier this year.

The price tag so far is about $3,000, but “it’s worth every dime and penny,” said the 36-year-old.

Pestikas said she feels much better for a few weeks after each treatment, but the effects wear off and she scrambles to find a way to pay for another one.

For now, ketamine has not received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating depression, though doctors can use it for that purpose.

Some studies show ketamine can provide relief within hours for tough-to-treat depression and suicidal behavior and clinics promising unproven benefits have popped up nationwide. But more research is needed to know long-term benefits and risks. (Oct. 31)

Ketamine has been around since the 1960s and is widely used as an anesthesia drug during surgery because it doesn’t suppress breathing. Compared to opioids such as morphine, ketamine isn’t as addictive and doesn’t cause breathing problems. And some studies have shown that ketamine can ease symptoms within hours for the toughest cases.

Its potential effects on depression were discovered in animal experiments in the late 1980s and early 1990s showing that glutamate, a brain chemical messenger, might play a role in depression, and that drugs including ketamine that target the glutamate pathway might work as antidepressants.

Conventional antidepressants like Prozac target serotonin, a different chemical messenger, and typically take weeks to months to kick in — a lag that can cause severely depressed patients to sink deeper into despair.

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A vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, on display in Chicago on July 25, 2018. AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Ketamine’s potential for almost immediate if temporary relief is what makes it so exciting, said Dr. Jennifer Vande Voort, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist who has used ketamine to treat depression patients since February.

“We don’t have a lot of things that provide that kind of effect. What I worry about is that it gets so hyped up,” she said.

The strongest studies suggest it’s most useful and generally safe in providing short-term help for patients who have not benefited from antidepressants. That amounts to about one-third of the roughly 300 million people with depression worldwide.

“It truly has revolutionized the field,” changing scientists’ views on how depression affects the brain and showing that rapid relief is possible, said Yale University psychiatrist Dr. Gerard Sanacora, who has done research for or consulted with companies seeking to develop ketamine-based drugs.

But to become standard depression treatment, he said, much more needs to be known.

Last year, Sanacora co-authored an American Psychiatric Association task force review of ketamine treatment for mood disorders that noted the benefits but said “major gaps” remain in knowledge about long-term effectiveness and safety. Most studies have been small, done in research settings and not in the real world.

When delivered through an IV, ketamine can cause a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure that could be dangerous for some patients. Ketamine also can cause hallucinations that some patients find scary.

“There are some very real concerns,” Sanacora said. “We do know this drug can be abused, so we have to be very careful about how this is developed.”

Dr. Rahul Khare, an emergency medicine specialist in Chicago, first learned about ketamine’s other potential benefits a decade ago from a depressed and anxious patient he was preparing to sedate to fix a repeat dislocated shoulder.

“He said, ‘Doc, give me what I got last time. For about three weeks after I got it I felt so much better,’” Khare recalled.

Khare became intrigued and earlier this year began offering ketamine for severe depression at an outpatient clinic he opened a few years ago. He also joined the American Society for Ketamine Physicians, formed a year ago representing about 140 U.S. doctors, nurses, psychologists and others using ketamine for depression or other nonapproved uses.

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Dr. Rahul Khare poses for a portrait at his outpatient Chicago clinic on July 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

There are about 150 U.S. ketamine clinics, compared with about 20 three years ago, said society co-founder Dr. Megan Oxley.

Khare said the burgeoning field “is like a new frontier” where doctors gather at meetings and compare notes. He has treated about 50 patients with depression including Pestikas. They’re typically desperate for relief after failing to respond to other antidepressants. Some have lost jobs and relationships because of severe depression, and most find that ketamine allows them to function, Khare said.

Typical treatment at his clinic involves six 45-minute sessions over about two weeks, costing $550 each. Some insurers will pay about half of that, covering Khare’s office visit cost. Patients can receive “booster” treatments. They must sign a four-page consent form that says benefits may not be long-lasting, lists potential side effects, and in bold letters states that the treatment is not government-approved.

At a recent session, Pestikas’s seventh, she leaned back on a reclining white examining-room chair as a nurse hooked her up to a heart and blood pressure monitor. She grimaced as a needle was slipped into the top of her left palm. Khare reached up with a syringe to inject a small dose of ketamine into an IV bag hanging above the chair, then dimmed the lights, pulled the window curtains and asked if she had questions and was feeling OK.

“No questions, just grateful,” Pestikas replied, smiling.

Pestikas listened to music on her iPhone and watched psychedelic videos. She said it was like “a controlled acid trip” with pleasant hallucinations. The trip ends soon after the IV is removed, but Pestikas said she feels calm and relaxed the rest of the day, and that the mood boost can last weeks.

Studies suggest that a single IV dose of ketamine far smaller than used for sedation or partying can help many patients gain relief within about four hours and lasting nearly a week or so.

Exactly how ketamine works is unclear, but one idea is that by elevating glutamate levels, ketamine helps nerve cells re-establish connections that were disabled by depression, said ketamine expert Dr. Carlos Zarate, chief of experimental therapies at the National Institute of Mental Health.

A small Stanford University study published in August suggested that ketamine may help relieve depression by activating the brain’s opioid receptors.

Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Allergan are among drug companies developing ketamine-like drugs for depression. Janssen leads the effort with its nasal spray esketamine. The company filed a new drug application in September.

Meanwhile, dozens of studies are underway seeking to answer some of the unknowns about ketamine including whether repeat IV treatments work better for depression and if there’s a way to zero in on which patients are most likely to benefit.

Until there are answers, Zarate of the mental health institute said ketamine should be a last-resort treatment for depression after other methods have failed.

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Revisiting the Hallucinogenic Potential of Ketamine

 

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A Case Built on Current Research Findings

Ketamine has caused quite a stir in psychiatric practice. Sub-anesthetic administrations of ketamine have been shown to markedly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.1 While the growing off-label use of ketamine speaks to the need for novel approaches to psychiatric care and treatment-resistant illness, it also presents an ethical dilemma, wherein widespread adoption has once again leaped ahead of scientific understanding.

The current literature suggests that therapeutic effects of ketamine involve modulation of glutamate neurotransmission, α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptor potentiation, downstream influences on neurotrophic signaling cascades and neuroplasticity, and functional changes in assorted neural networks. Additional work is necessary to clarify the importance and reliability of these biological findings.

Another arc to the ketamine story dates back to a decades-old era of psychedelic research and search for medications with transformative power. Indeed, although primarily conceptualized today as a dissociative anesthetic, ketamine has also been classified more broadly as a hallucinogen. Hallucinogens function by various pharmacological mechanisms of action but exhibit similarities in their ability to occasion temporary but profound alterations of consciousness, involving acute changes in somatic, perceptual, cognitive, and affective processes.

Current biological theories involving ketamine’s antidepressant effect may be inseparable from these non-ordinary experiences of consciousness, but we can only know the answers to questions we ask. Here we examine findings from contemporary research that hint at the unexplored hallucinogenic potential of ketamine and considerations for future investigation.

There has been a resurgence of interest in hallucinogenic psychedelics (eg, psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)) and entactogens (eg, 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine [MDMA]) in psychiatric research, which are hypothesized to achieve clinical benefit due to, in part, experiences of altered consciousness and fundamental shifts in mental frameworks.2

These drugs have been associated with cognitive states of enduring personal importance and have been compared with mystical experiences that might emerge over the ordinary course of life and carry sacred or spiritual meaning. Furthermore, these experiences may powerfully influence existential concepts of self, including moral values, self-identity, and purpose. There is converging evidence that these psychedelic effects are mediated in part by activity at 5HT-2A receptors. Ketamine may induce alterations in consciousness and personal frameworks similar to those achieved by serotonergic psychedelics while also sharing a common glutamatergic pathway of drug effect.3,4 However, there has been little investigation into how such changes might mediate the therapeutic potential of ketamine.

Preliminary data suggest that ketamine produces meaningful, transformative experiences that may help patients accept healthier values, behaviors, and beliefs related to abstinence from drugs and alcohol.5,6 Other evidence suggests that dose-related mystical-type experiences mediate the effects of ketamine on motivation to quit in cocaine-dependent research volunteers.7Few recent studies have examined whether ketamine’s hallucinogenic properties are implicated in antidepressant effects; however, psychiatric vulnerabilities to depression plausibly involve an existential dimension. This dimension includes depressive symptoms of hopelessness, guilt, and suicidality, which appear to be ketamine-sensitive.8

The evidence

Given the paucity of modern literature exploring the psychedelic and mystical properties of ketamine in depression, more widespread data on psychotomimetic and dissociative effects of ketamine provide some initial groundwork. Berman and collegeagues9 and Zarate and colleagues10 suggested that the antidepressant effects of ketamine (0.5 mg/kg over 40 min) were disconnected from ketamine-induced psychotomimetic symptoms. The antidepressant effects, measured by the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), were significant even after positive symptoms on the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) returned to baseline. However, it was also noted that initial changes in BPRS positive symptom scales from baseline trended to predict a greater decrease in HDRS scores within a day of treatment with ketamine.

A small study further demonstrated a substantial relationship between psychotomimetic effects 30 minutes after ketamine administration (0.54mg/kg over 30 min) as measured by BPRS and antidepressant effects in the following week.11 A larger study involving 108 patients found that dissociation measured by the Clinician Administered Dissociative States Scale (CADDS) at 40 minutes was associated with HDRS score improvement at 230 minutes and 7 days after infusion.12 Although no relationship between initial BPRS positive subscale scores and antidepressant effect was found, a correlation between CADSS and BPRS scores was found at 40 minutes postinfusion.

In a small study by Valentine and colleagues,13 the proposed correlation between ketamine-induced dissociation and antidepressant efficacy was not observed. However, a larger analysis found that greater intra-infusion dissociation as measured by CADDS was one of the strongest predictors of extended antidepressant response.14 Both of these studies utilized a single 0.5 mg/kg ketamine infusion delivered over 40 minutes.

Further investigation is needed, but there is an emerging rationale for a connection between the psychotomimetic or dissociative effects of ketamine and its antidepressant efficacy. Perhaps the experience of these effects simply un-blinds patients as to whether they are receiving ketamine or placebo in randomized trials; it may also be that such symptoms are only a “side effect” of ketamine’s mechanism of action. However, it is also worth considering that the psychotomimetic or dissociative effects associated with ketamine treatment are markers or mediators of subjective experiences of potential therapeutic value seen with other hallucinogenic agents.

Recommended dosing

The recommended doses of ketamine for anesthetic induction are typically 1 to 4.5mg/kg IV and 6.5 to 13 mg/kg IM, with alternate, off-label recommendations for 0.5 to 2 mg/kg IV and 4 to 10 mg/kg IM, primarily in the context of adjuvant drug use. For use in depression, ketamine is most commonly administered at a sub-anesthetic dose of 0.5mg/kg IV across 40 minutes.

Interestingly, in a study of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and anesthetic induction with either a near-anesthetic dose of IV ketamine (0.8mg/kg) alone, sub-anesthetic ketamine (0.5mg/kg) plus propofol (0.8mg/kg), or propofol alone (0.8mg/kg), predicted a more rapid antidepressant effect and a higher remission rate than propofol use. The near-anesthetic dose of ketamine was associated with superior antidepressant effects than the mixed, sub-anesthetic dose.15

In a study of ketamine alongside psychotherapy for heroin addiction, Krupitsky and colleagues6compared the effects of 2 doses of ketamine (0.2 and 2.0 mg/kg IM) and found that only the higher dose was associated with a “full psychedelic experience” as measured by the Hallucinogen Rating Scale (HRS). The lower dose was considered a “sub-psychedelic” active placebo, but was nonetheless associated with some positive drug effects: patients were still affected by their experiences and considered them useful and therapeutic. The high dose group ultimately experienced higher rates of abstinence, greater effect on emotional attitudes related to abstinence, and lower rates of relapse and drug craving than the low dose group. Both doses resulted in post-treatment reductions in measures of depression and anxiety; there were no significant differences between the groups.

Similarly, Dakwar and colleagues7 compared the effects of 0.41 mg/kg and 0.71 mg/kg doses of IV ketamine given to cocaine-dependent patients. Dose-dependent mystical-type effects as measured by Hood’s Mysticism Scale (HMS) were seen as well as a relationship between HMS scores and the motivation to quit cocaine 24 hours post-infusion.

A different study involving a lower dose of intramuscular (IM) ketamine did not generate the same mystical-type phenomena.16 Perhaps these results highlight the importance of calibrating dosing and delivery. Clements and colleagues17 demonstrated that ketamine had reduced bioavailability with IM administration compared with IV administration. Taken together, these findings support the idea that positive treatment outcomes for ketamine may be dose-dependent and its psychoactive effects are based on delivery parameters.

Limitation

One criticism of ketamine has been its short duration of antidepressant effect, with benefits peaking at 24 hours post-infusion and generally subsiding by 72 hours. The most promising approach to this challenge thus far seems to be the strategy of repeated-dose ketamine infusions, which have observed extended time-to-relapse and increased rates of antidepressant response.18

If ketamine’s therapeutic effect is indeed mediated by psychoactive experience, it may be that repeated dosing of ketamine improves outcomes by increasing opportunities for personally meaningful events to occur. One caveat is that some studies have shown repeated dosing to be associated with fewer dissociative symptoms over time—at first glance this suggests that the antidepressant value of serial ketamine administration might be independent of hallucinogenic effects.

While this requires further investigation, it is also important to consider other interpretations of that evidence: that acclimation to altered states of consciousness may contribute to recall bias, that experimental protocols that frame dissociative symptoms as a “side effect” or “adverse event” may lead to underreporting if overall patient experiences of ketamine are positive, or even that the benefit of repeated dosing may be less related to cumulative drug effect than other factors, such as repeated interactions with care providers or increased opportunities for reflection and synthesis.

One study of repeated infusions demonstrated that antidepressant response very early in the course of treatment strongly predicted subsequent response; conversely, a lack of rapid response was a poor prognostic indicator for improvement after additional infusions. Whether positive early responses to ketamine are mediated by psychological factors, biological susceptibility, or both: it is necessary to clarify these factors in shaping sustainable strategies for treatment.

A cautious approach also seems imperative given evidence that ketamine demonstrates agonist activity at μ-opioid receptors and dopaminergic effects that may confer acute relief of depressive symptoms but also greater risk for positive drug reinforcement and dependence. With further insight into psychological responses mediated by ketamine, it may be that a therapy-based framework for ketamine administration optimizes treatment efficacy and sustainability, while also minimizing unnecessary drug exposure, adverse effects of chronic use, and dependency risk.

Further study needed

In one study, long-term abstinence in persons who were substance dependent was achieved with Ketamine Psychedelic Therapy (KPT), which incorporates 1 or 2 sessions of ketamine-facilitated existential reappraisal into an existential psychotherapy.6 Additional exploration would be needed to determine which therapeutic approaches most beneficially augment ketamine treatment and minimize risks for harm. Nevertheless, a more holistic approach to ketamine as a treatment modality may be better suited to recreate the marked, persistent effects of MDMA in patients with PTSD. For example, in one study sustained symptom reductions were achieved with 12 weeks of psychotherapy but with limited MDMA exposures of only three 8-hour sessions.19

Another area that requires further investigation is how a patient’s past history might shape psychoactive responses. These personal and quite variable histories have been explored for some hallucinogenic agents but minimally for ketamine. The expectations and personal experiences of the individual user along with the external environment of use have been identified as critical factors in influencing subjective drug effects—coined “set” and “setting,” respectively—and are now considered well-established elements of human hallucinogen research.20

Therapies aimed at the pharmacological production of a transformative experience may depend on factors such as patient personality structure, preparation for treatment, emotional activation before drug intake, treatment context, and perceived quality of the experience. Given the unique psychological risks of hallucinogen administration, it is recommended that clinicians screen for personal or family histories of psychotic or other severe psychiatric disorders prior to treatment. Clinicians are also encouraged to facilitate careful patient preparation for sessions, provide a safe physical environment for treatment administration, and allow for interpersonal support during sessions. These and other insights from hallucinogenic research might valuably inform treatment protocols for ketamine administration.

Ketamine is uniquely poised to make a tremendous impact on psychiatric care, even redefining boundaries for patients with variations in depressive disorders that were once thought to be “treatment resistant.” Our synthesis of this emerging and old literature points to the unexplored hallucinogenic potential of ketamine. By further understanding the desirable psychoactive effects of ketamine, clinicians can build on initial treatment successes and maximize patient successes.

Future directions for research include:

• Further investigating the relationship between ketamine-induced psychotomimetic and dissociative effects and treatment efficacy

• Clarifying the connection between these effects and potentially desirable hallucinogenic experiences

• Exploring the therapeutic value of such elicited experiences

• Revisiting dosing strategies that account for existential phenomena and looking beyond dissociation as simply being an “adverse event”

• Incorporating psychotherapy-based frameworks into ongoing investigation

• Assessing set and setting factors that may shape treatment responses

Some answers and clues are likely to be found in the forgotten works of older psychedelic research. Agents like ketamine can exert their greatest therapeutic effect in the afterglow of profound alterations of consciousness, revealing a propensity for growth and healing that has not been evident to the suffering, depressed patient. Wherever the journey takes us, it is exactly the right time to bring together all the strands—brain and mind, old and new, caution and thrill—in assembling the unfinished story of ketamine.

 

References:

1. Feifel D. Breaking sad: unleashing the breakthrough potential of ketamine’s rapid antidepressant effects. Drug Dev Res. 2016;77;489-494.

2. Griffiths RR, Richards WA, McCann U, Jesse R. Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacol (Berl). 2006;187:268-283, 292.

3. Perry EB, Cramer JA, Cho HS, et al. Psychiatric safety of ketamine in psychopharmacology research. Psychopharmacol (Berl). 2007;192:253-260.

4. Vollenweider FX, Kometer M. The neurobiology of psychedelic drugs: implications for the treatment of mood disorders. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2010;11:642-651.

5. Jansen KLR. Ketamine: Dreams and Realities. Sarasota, FL: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies; 2001.

6. Krupitsky E, Burakov A, Romanova T, et al. Ketamine psychotherapy for heroin addiction: immediate effects and two-year follow-up. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2002;23:273-283.

7. Dakwar E, Levin F, Foltin RW, et al. The effects of sub-anesthetic ketamine infusions on motivation to quit and cue-induced craving in cocaine dependent research volunteers. Biol Psychiatry. 2014;76:40-46.

8. Mathew SJ, Shah A, Lapidus K, et al. Ketamine for treatment-resistant unipolar depression: current evidence. CNS Drugs. 2012;26:189-204.

9. Berman RM, Cappiello A, Anand A, et al. Antidepressant effects of ketamine in depressed patients. Biol Psychiatry. 2000;47:351-354.

10. Zarate CA, Singh JB, Carlson PJ, et al. A randomized trial of an N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist in treatment-resistant major depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63:856-864.

11. Sos P, Kirova M, Novak T, et al. Relationship of ketamine’s antidepressant and psychotomimetic effects in unipolar depression. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2013;34:287-293.

12. Luckenbaugh DA, Niciu MJ, Ionescu DF, et al. Do the dissociative side effects of ketamine mediate its antidepressant effects? J Affect Disord. 2014;159:56-61.

13. Valentine GW, Mason GF, Gomez R, et al. The antidepressant effect of ketamine is not associated with changes in occipital amino acid neurotransmitter content as measured by [(1)H]-MRS. Psychiatry Res. 2011;191:122-127.

14. Pennybaker SJ, Niciu MJ, Luckenbaugh DA, Zarate CA. Symptomatology and predictors of antidepressant efficacy in extended responders to a single ketamine infusion. J Affect Disord. 2017;208:560-566.

15. Zhong X, He H, Zhang C, et al. Mood and neuropsychological effects of different doses of ketamine in electroconvulsive therapy for treatment-resistant depression. J Affect Disord. 2016;201:124-130.

16. Lofwall MR, Griffiths RR, Mintzer MZ. Cognitive and subjective acute dose effects of intramuscular ketamine in healthy adults. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006;14:439-449.

17. Clements JA, Nimmo WS, Grant IS. Bioavailability, pharmacokinetics, and analgesic activity of ketamine in humans. J Pharma Sci. 1982;71:539-542.

18. Murrough JW, Perez AM, Pillemer S, et al. Rapid and longer-term antidepressant effects of repeated ketamine infusions in treatment-resistant major depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2013;74:250-256.

19. Mithoefer, M. C. et al. Durability of improvement in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and absence of harmful effects or drug dependency after 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy: a prospective long-term follow-up study. J Psychopharmacol. 2013;27:28-39.

20. Leary T, Litwin GH, Metzner R. Reactions to psilocybin administered in a supportive environment. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1963;137:561-573.

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Ketamine

The drug Ketamine is considered a breakthrough treatment for depression and some other neuropsychiatric conditions. Below are excerpts from recent articles discussing this revolutionary treatment and the links to the full articles.

Ketamine For Depression: the Highs and Lows.

The Lancet Psychiatry. VOLUME 2, ISSUE 9, P783–784, SEPTEMBER 2015

Long used as an anaesthetic and analgesic, most people familiar with ketamine know of it for this purpose. Others know it as a party drug that can give users an out-of-body experience, leaving them completely disconnected from reality. Less well known is its growing off-label use in the USA for depression, in many cases when other options have been exhausted.

David Feifel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the first clinicians to use ketamine off-label to treat depression at UCDS’s Center for Advanced Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders, which he recently founded. “Currently approved medications for depression all have about the same, very limited efficacy. A large percentage of patients with depression do not get an adequate level of relief from these antidepressants even when they have tried several different ones and even when other drugs known to augment their effects are added to them”, Feifel tells The Lancet Psychiatry. “The stagnation in current antidepressant medication on the one hand, and the tremendous number of treatment-resistant patients, has propelled me to explore truly novel treatments like ketamine.”

Compelling published study results and case reports exist of patients’ depression—in some cases deeply entrenched depression that has lasted months or even years—alleviating within hours of use of ketamine. However, critics have warned that the drug has not been studied sufficiently (at least outside clinical trials), and also emphasized the cost. Patients can pay more than $1000 per session for treatment that must usually be repeated several times. That cost is rarely covered by the patient’s medical insurance.

Advocates of ketamine use in depression are excited because it has a different mechanism of action to standard antidepressants, which affect signalling by monoamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin, noradrenaline, or dopamine. Ketamine is thought to act by blocking N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain, which interact with the amino acid neurotransmitter glutamate.

Feifel states that he has patients who have been receiving ketamine treatments every 2–4 weeks for long periods, some for around 3 years, and has not yet seen any safety issues arise.

Pharmaceutical companies are entering this exciting arena by attempting to develop new drugs based on ketamine without similar side-effects. Feifel dismisses the notion that the dissociative so-called trip induced by ketamine is actually an important negative side-effect. “Although I have had a couple patients have unpleasant ‘trips’, it’s exceedingly rare, usually dose related, and very transitory due to ketamine’s rapid metabolism.” Feifel says that, more often than not, patients find the trip to be positive, or even spiritual, and believe it is an important component of the antidepressant effect they experience afterwards. “There is no doubt the dissociative effect represents a logistical issue, requiring monitoring—and this should be addressed in any approval given for ketamine”, he adds.

Feifel says that it is not for him, but for his patients to decide where the balance of risks and benefits lies in trying ketamine to treat their depression”One could make a compelling argument that it’s unethical to withhold ketamine treatments from someone who has chronic, severe treatment resistant depression. But I know this from the patients who tell me they would not be in this world right now if it were not for the ketamine.”

Feifel concludes that it is straightforward to talk to TRD patients about ketamine. “I tell them all the relevant information. The efficacy rates, time to onset of benefits, duration limitations, alternatives, lack of insurance coverage, and other information. My job is to make sure they understand the parameters of the treatment, not to decide whether they should do it.”

Full article: The Lancet

Ketamine for depression the highs and lows b

Onetime Party Drug Hailed as Miracle for Treating Severe Depression

Washington Post, Feb 2, 2016

Ketamine, popularly known as the psychedelic club drug Special K, has been around since the early 1960s. It is a staple anesthetic in emergency rooms, regularly used for children when they come in with broken bones and dislocated shoulders. It’s an important tool in burn centers and veterinary medicine, as well as a notorious date-rape drug, known for its power to quickly numb and render someone immobile. Since 2006, dozens of studies have reported that it can also reverse the kind of severe depression that traditional antidepressants often don’t touch.

Experts are calling it the most significant advance in mental health in more than half a century. They point to studies showing ketamine not only produces a rapid and robust antidepressant effect; it also puts a quick end to suicidal thinking.  “This is the next big thing in psychiatry,” says L. Alison McInnes, a San Francisco psychiatrist who over the past year has enrolled 58 severely depressed patients in Kaiser’s San Francisco clinic. The excitement stems from the fact that it’s working for patients who have spent years cycling through antidepressants, mood stabilizers and various therapies. “Psychiatry has run out of gas” in trying to help depressed patients for whom nothing has worked, she says. “There is a significant number of people who don’t respond to antidepressants, and we’ve had nothing to offer them other than cognitive behavior therapy, electroshock therapy and transcranial stimulation.”

Ketamine does, however, have one major limitation: Its relief is temporary. Clinical trials at NIMH have found that relapse usually occurs about a week after a single infusion.

A study published in the journal Science in 2010 suggested that ketamine restores brain function through a process called synaptogenesis. Scientists at Yale University found that ketamine not only improved depression-like behavior in rats but also promoted the growth of new synaptic connections between neurons in the brain.

Patients often describe a kind of lucid dreaming or dissociative state in which they lose track of time and feel separated from their bodies. Many enjoy it; some don’t. But studies at NIMH and elsewhere suggest that the psychedelic experience may play a small but significant role in the drug’s efficacy.

As a drug once known almost exclusively to anesthesiologists, ketamine now falls into a gray zone. As the use of ketamine looks likely to grow, many psychiatrists say that use of ketamine for depression should be left to them. “The bottom line is you’re treating depression,” says psychiatrist David Feifel, director of the Center for Advanced Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders at the University of California at San Diego. “And this isn’t garden-variety depression. The people coming in for ketamine are people who have the toughest, potentially most dangerous depressions. I think it’s a disaster if anesthesiologists feel competent to monitor these patients.”

Full article: The Washington Post

Onetime party drug hailed as miracle for treating severe depression


A Ketamine intravenous drip being prepared. (Amarett Jans/Courtesy of Enrique Abreu)

February 1, 2016

It was November 2012 when Dennis Hartman, a Seattle business executive, managed to pull himself out of bed, force himself to shower for the first time in days and board a plane that would carry him across the country to a clinical trial at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda.

After a lifetime of profound depression, 25 years of therapy and cycling through 18 antidepressants and mood stabilizers, Hartman, then 46, had settled on a date and a plan to end it all. The clinical trial would be his last attempt at salvation.

For 40 minutes, he sat in a hospital room as an IV drip delivered ketamine through his system. Several more hours passed before it occurred to him that all his thoughts of suicide had evaporated.

“My life will always be divided into the time before that first infusion and the time after,” Hartman says today. “That sense of suffering and pain draining away. I was bewildered by the absence of pain.”

Ketamine could be speedy depression treatment

Ketamine is being used by researchers at The National Institutes of Health as a treatment for major depression. 

Ketamine, popularly known as the psychedelic club drug Special K, has been around since the early 1960s. It is a staple anesthetic in emergency rooms, regularly used for children when they come in with broken bones and dislocated shoulders. It’s an important tool in burn centers and veterinary medicine, as well as a notorious date-rape drug, known for its power to quickly numb and render someone immobile.

Since 2006, dozens of studies have reported that it can also reverse the kind of severe depression that traditional antidepressants often don’t touch. The momentum behind the drug has now reached the American Psychiatric Association, which, according to members of a ketamine task force, seems headed toward a tacit endorsement of the drug for treatment-resistant depression.

Experts are calling it the most significant advance in mental health in more than half a century. They point to studies showing ketamine not only produces a rapid and robust antidepressant effect; it also puts a quick end to suicidal thinking.

Traditional antidepressants and mood stabilizers, by comparison, can take weeks or months to work. In 2010, a major study published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, reported that drugs in a leading class of antidepressants were no better than placebos for most depression.

A growing number of academic medical centers, including Yale University, the University of California at San Diego, the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, have begun offering ketamine treatments off-label for severe depression, as has Kaiser Permanente in Northern California.

The ‘next big thing’

“This is the next big thing in psychiatry,” says L. Alison McInnes, a San Francisco psychiatrist who over the past year has enrolled 58 severely depressed patients in Kaiser’s San Francisco clinic. She says her long-term success rate of 60 percent for people with treatment-resistant depression who try the drug has persuaded Kaiser to expand treatment to two other clinics in the Bay Area. The excitement stems from the fact that it’s working for patients who have spent years cycling through antidepressants, mood stabilizers and various therapies.

“Psychiatry has run out of gas” in trying to help depressed patients for whom nothing has worked, she says. “There is a significant number of people who don’t respond to antidepressants, and we’ve had nothing to offer them other than cognitive behavior therapy, electroshock therapy and transcranial stimulation.”

McInnes is a member of the APA’s ketamine task force, assigned to codify the protocol for how and when the drug will be given. She says she expects the APA to support the use of ketamine treatment early this year.

The guidelines, which follow the protocol used in the NIMH clinical trial involving Hartman, call for six IV drips over a two-week period. The dosage is very low, about a tenth of the amount used in anesthesia. And when it works, it does so within minutes or hours.

“It’s not subtle,” says Enrique Abreu, a Portland, Ore., anesthesiologist who began treating depressed patients with it in 2012. “It’s really obvious if it’s going to be effective.

“And the response rate is unbelievable. This drug is 75 percent effective, which means that three-quarters of my patients do well. Nothing in medicine has those kind of numbers.”

So far, there is no evidence of addiction at the low dose in which infusions are delivered. Ketamine does, however, have one major limitation: Its relief is temporary. Clinical trials at NIMH have found that relapse usually occurs about a week after a single infusion.

Ketamine works differently from traditional antidepressants, which target the brain’s serotonin and noradrenalin systems. It blocks N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), a receptor in the brain that is activated by glutamate, a neurotransmitter.

In excessive quantities, glutamate becomes an excitotoxin, meaning that it overstimulates brain cells.

“Ketamine almost certainly modifies the function of synapses and circuits, turning certain circuits on and off,” explains Carlos Zarate Jr., NIMH’s chief of neurobiology and treatment of mood disorders, who has led the research on ketamine. “The result is a rapid antidepressant effect.”

Rapid effect

study published in the journal Science in 2010 suggested that ketamine restores brain function through a process called synaptogenesis. Scientists at Yale University found that ketamine not only improved depression-like behavior in rats but also promoted the growth of new synaptic connections between neurons in the brain.

mTOR-dependent synapse formation underlies the rapid antidepressant effects of NMDA antagonists.

Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development

Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity.

Even a low-dose infusion can cause intense hallucinations. Patients often describe a kind of lucid dreaming or dissociative state in which they lose track of time and feel separated from their bodies. Many enjoy it; some don’t. But studies at NIMH and elsewhere suggest that the psychedelic experience may play a small but significant role in the drug’s efficacy.

“It’s one of the things that’s really striking,” says Steven Levine, a Princeton, N.J., psychiatrist who estimates that he has treated 500 patients with ketamine since 2011. “With depression, people often feel very isolated and disconnected. Ketamine seems to leave something indelible behind. People use remarkably similar language to describe their experience: ‘a sense of connection to other people,’ ‘a greater sense of connection to the universe.’ ”

Although bladder problems and cognitive deficits have been reported among long-term ketamine abusers, none of these effects have been observed in low-dose clinical trials. In addition to depression, the drug is being studied for its effectiveness in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme anxiety and Rett syndrome, a rare developmental disorder on the autism spectrum.

Booster treatments

The drug’s fleeting remission effect has led many patients to seek booster infusions. Hartman, for one, began his search before he even left his hospital room in Bethesda.

Four years ago, he couldn’t find a doctor in the Pacific Northwest willing to administer ketamine. “At the time, psychiatrists hovered between willful ignorance and outright opposition to it,” says Hartman, whose depression began creeping back a few weeks after his return to Seattle.

It took nine months before he found an anesthesiologist in New York who was treating patients with ketamine. Soon, he was flying back and forth across the country for bimonthly infusions.

Upon his request, he received the same dosage and routine he’d received in Bethesda: six infusions over two weeks. And with each return to New York, his relief seemed to last a little longer. These days, he says that his periods of remission between infusions often stretch to six months. He says he no longer takes any medication for depression besides ketamine.

“I don’t consider myself permanently cured, but now it’s something I can manage,” Hartman says, “like diabetes or arthritis. Before, it was completely unmanageable. It dominated my life and prevented me from functioning.”

In 2012 he helped found the Ketamine Advocacy Network, a group that vets ketamine clinics, advocates for insurance coverage and spreads the word about the drug.

And word has indeed spread. Ketamine clinics, typically operated by psychiatrists or anesthesiologists, are popping up in major cities around the country.

Levine, for one, is about to expand from New Jersey to Denver and Baltimore. Portland’s Abreu recently opened a second clinic in Seattle.

Depression is big business. An estimated 15.7 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2014, according to the NIMH.

“There’s a great unmet need in depression,” says Gerard Sanacora, director of the Yale Depression Research Program. “We think this is an extremely important treatment. The concern comes if people start using ketamine before CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] or Prozac. Maybe someday it will be a first-line treatment. But we’re not there yet.”

Many unknowns

Sanacora says a lot more research is required. “It’s a medication that can have big changes in heart rate and blood pressure. There are so many unknowns, I’m not sure it should be used more widely till we understand its long-term benefits and risks.”

While a single dose of ketamine is cheaper than a $2 bottle of water, the cost to the consumer varies wildly, running anywhere between $500 and $1,500 per treatment. The drug itself is easily available in any pharmacy, and doctors are free to prescribe it — as with any medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration — for off-label use. Practitioners attribute the expense to medical monitoring of patients and IV equipment required during an infusion.

There is no registry for tracking the number of patients being treated with ketamine for depression, the frequency of those treatments, dosage levels, follow-up care and adverse effects.

“We clearly need more standardization in its use,” Zarate says. “We still don’t know what the proper dose should be. We need to do more studies. It still, in my opinion, should be used predominantly in a research setting or highly specialized clinic.”

As a drug once known almost exclusively to anesthesiologists, ketamine now falls into a gray zone.

“Most anesthesiologists don’t do mental health, and there’s no way a psychiatrist feels comfortable putting an IV in someone’s arm,” Abreu says.

It’s a drug, in other words, that practically demands collaboration. Instead, it has set off a turf war. As the use of ketamine looks likely to grow, many psychiatrists say that use of ketamine for depression should be left to them.

“The bottom line is you’re treating depression,” says psychiatrist David Feifel, director of the Center for Advanced Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders at the University of California at San Diego. “And this isn’t garden-variety depression. The people coming in for ketamine are people who have the toughest, potentially most dangerous depressions. I think it’s a disaster if anesthesiologists feel competent to monitor these patients. Many of them have bipolar disorder and are in danger of becoming manic. My question [to anesthesiologists] is: ‘Do you feel comfortable that you can pick up mania?’ ”

But ketamine has flourished from the ground up and with little or no advertising. The demand has come primarily from patients and their families; Zarate, for instance, says he receives “at least 100 emails a day” from patients.

Nearly every one of them wants to know where they can get it.

 

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