Home » Veterans’ Depression Alleviated by Ketamine, Study Finds

Veterans’ Depression Alleviated by Ketamine, Study Finds

by Richard A Reagan

A recent study by the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System reveals the potential of ketamine, formerly known as a ‘party drug’, as a formidable treatment for veterans suffering from severe, treatment-resistant depression. [Source]

This “real-world” research showcases almost half of the 215 veterans studied experiencing significant relief after undergoing six weeks of ketamine infusions, providing a beacon of hope for those who have exhausted other treatment avenues.

Dr. Paul Pfeiffer, the study’s lead author and a faculty member at the U-M Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, highlighted the importance of these findings.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Dr. Pfeiffer stated, acknowledging the complexity of treating severe depression. “But when we see these patients in our clinic, who have been through every treatment available and nothing has worked, to have even a quarter achieve a significant measurable response is very good. We routinely get thanked for making a difference in their lives.”

The study closely monitored 215 veterans who received ketamine infusions over six weeks, tracking their progress for a year following their initial treatment.

The veterans were selected due to their history of treatment-resistant depression, with many also suffering from PTSD, anxiety, or substance abuse issues. Despite the complexity of their conditions, nearly half of the study participants experienced a meaningful reduction in depression scores.

A notable 15% of patients saw such significant improvements that their depression went into remission within six weeks of starting treatment.

This outcome is particularly striking given the chronic nature of the participants’ depression and their extensive histories of unsuccessful treatments, including standard antidepressants, psychiatric hospitalizations, and even shock therapy.

The study’s findings, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, temper the initial hype around ketamine, suggesting a more nuanced understanding of its benefits.

“These findings ratchet down the hype about ketamine a bit, because we don’t see dramatic improvement after just one infusion, or strong response in most patients,” Dr. Pfeiffer remarked. However, he also emphasized the sense of hope ketamine treatment can offer, noting the quicker impact it can have compared to traditional antidepressants.

The broader implications of ketamine’s use in treating depression are significant, especially as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved esketamine, a nasal spray form of the drug, for this very purpose.

“It’s important to remember that ketamine is relatively new as a treatment, and there are multiple ways it can be delivered,” Dr. Pfeiffer added, pointing towards an evolving landscape in the care of treatment-resistant depression.

Support for ketamine therapy extends beyond the academic realm. The VA’s backing of this treatment modality underscores its potential. “VA supports the evidence-based use of ketamine infusions for treatment-resistant depression and severe suicidal ideation,” VA press secretary Terrence Hayes confirmed, highlighting the growing acceptance and integration of ketamine treatments within veteran care protocols. [Source]

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