May 3, 2008

Nightclub Drug May Lessen Depression

Scientists reported Friday that a drug widely known as "Special K", a horse tranquilizer and hallucinogenic night club drug that can cause feelings of detachment, could help ease depression.  

The researchers said the drug, called Ketamine, could pave the way for new treatments for those suffering from the condition.   

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects about 121 million people around the world and is a leading cause of suicide.

The study found that Ketamine affects the orbifrontal cortex, an area of the brain located above the eyes and believed to be responsible for feelings of guilt, dread, apprehension and certain other physical reactions. In depressed people, this area is overactive.  However, the study, led by Bill Deakin, found that Ketamine restores it back to its normal state.

"The study results have given us a completely novel way of treating depression and a new avenue of understanding depression," Deakin, a neuroscientist at the University of Manchester, told the Associated Press.

In the study, 33 healthy male volunteers were given ketamine.  Deakin and his team then took minute-by-minute brain scans to see what was happening as the drug took effect. The images revealed the drug worked quickly.

The results were surprising because the researchers had expected that ketamine, sometimes used as a battlefield anesthetic, would instead affect the part of the brain that controls psychosis, according to Deakin.

"There was some activity there but more striking was the switching off of the depression centre," he said.

Although prior research had found that ketamine improved symptoms of depression after 24 hours, scientists were not clear precisely how.  

The new findings now provide researchers a specific target in designing new drugs and offer hope for the many patients who do not respond to Prozac, which can take a month to kick in, or other standard medicines, Deakin added.

Prozac, initially introduced by U.S. drugmaker Eli Lilly in 1987, belongs to a class of compounds called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It is now off patent and commonly available in generic form as fluoxetine.

"Many people don't respond to treatment," Deakin said in during a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

"This offers a potential way of treating them."

The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.


On the Net:

ABSTRACT: Glutamate and the Neural Basis of the Subjective Effects of Ketamine

World Health Organization - Depression

University of Manchester

Archives of General Psychiatry