Is Ketamine The Key For Future Depression Treatment?
It is estimated that one in four people will experience a major episode of depression before they reach the age of 24. It is a serious condition, and one that pervades society, crippling lives. It is also a condition that is notoriously hard to treat. There is no quick fix for depression, and requires more than simply “cheering up”. Understandably, this makes it an area of great concern for science: to better understand what causes it and how it can be treated. The most recent research suggests that Ketamine, or “special K” could hold the answer.
STRESS, DEPRESSION AND THE LINK TO OVEREATING
One of the major triggers of depression is chronic stress. Unless properly managed, leading a stressful life with no respite wears away and the body and mind. The result is anxiety and depression, which in turn can lead to overeating for comfort. This in turn, along with the stress and depression, leads to the inhibition of the synthesis of proteins in the brain – proteins responsible for creating new synaptic connections. The result is a slower cellular response, thus reducing energy and slowing the metabolism, spiralling the depression down even further.
In order to investigate the link between depression and diet, a group of scientists thought it would be good to give some ketamine to mice. However, before they got to this, they first fed the mice extremely fatty food for a few months. This overeating eventually led to the synaptic plasticity and metabolism of the mice being affected, leading to signs of depression.
The mice were then given one low dose of ketamine. It was found that the symptoms of depression disappeared within hours. The reason? Ketamine activates the mTORC pathway, which is known to oversee the synthesis of proteins that build synaptic connections in the brain. It potentially overcomes one of the main known problems of depression that causes it to become stuck in a loop. Of course, this doesn’t address the underlying problems, such as the chronic stress that may have caused it all in the first place.
BRINGING THINGS TO A HUMAN LEVEL
It is not just mice that are undergoing ketamine-based therapy, though. The US National Institute of Health is so convinced by previous research into the field, it is moving into human-based testing, and is currently recruiting at the point of writing this for a ketamine/depression study. The aim is to assess whether ketamine can induce a rapid next-day alleviation of symptoms, and if so, how long they last for - helping steer scientists in the right direction when formulating future anti-depressants. It will be fascinating to see the results! And if previous research is anything to go by, there should be a very positive outcome.
It is even thought that a low dose of ketamine could help those resistant to traditional forms of treatment. Getting lost in the K-hole, and its effects on the human brain, still need to be explored in much greater detail before you will see ketamine becoming a normal treatment for depression. It is worth noting that ketamine is not considered to be a treatment, and should not be used as such; the effects are simply being explored to gain a better understanding, with only initial non-clinical research available. However, this research shows the potential is there, we just need to see if it can be harnessed safely.