Ketamine & Mental Health: What We Know Already

A very good friend sent me a landmark study surrounding Ketamine a little while ago.  In drug research, big effects and powerful findings are usually accompanied by tiny sample sizes and weird statistics magic to rig the findings. So when I read the meta-analysis and systematic review published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, I was heartened. This is serious science and serious stats, with 167 patients evaluated across multiple studies. Also, the reporting scales (MADRS, HAM-D, QIDS-SR & the BDI) are well understood, robust and respected in the field. All of this adds up to this results abstract being very, VERY important:

Ketamine rapidly (within 1 day) reduced suicidal ideation significantly on both the clinician-administered and self-report outcome measures. Effect sizes were moderate to large (Cohen’s d=0.48–0.85) at all time points after dosing. A sensitivity analysis demonstrated that compared with control treatments, ketamine had significant benefits on the individual suicide items of the MADRS, the HAM-D, and the QIDS-SR but not the BDI. Ketamine’s effect on suicidal ideation remained significant after adjusting for concurrent changes in severity of depressive symptoms.
~The Effect of a Single Dose of Intravenous Ketamine on Suicidal Ideation: A Systematic Review & Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis (Wilkinson et al)

That’s a dense couple of sentences, so let me explain why it’s so earth shattering. Suicidal thoughts, (known as suicidal ideation in clinical psychology) and depressed feelings are very difficult to get rid of, especially for depressed people. Treatment-resistant depression is a term associated with someone who has attempted multiple types of treatment for their Axis I disorder, but it hasn’t gotten better. After trying multiple types of interventions with no success, people slide quickly into hopelessness and thoughts of self harm. Up until now, depression treatments like SSRI drugs and Cognitive Behavioral therapy take time to work, sometimes more than a month. If you’re not in a good place right now, these things can’t help you. Ketamine infusions help immediately, and the change is apparent both to the patient and to the interviewing physician afterwards. This bit is huge, as most drug research relies heavily on self-report, which leads to bias and distorted findings. But, people are already talking to the press swearing by it, and it’s getting quite a lot of press, so here’s what they’re talking about.

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