Unfortunately, research on ketamine addicts and those who take it in large doses as a party drug has revealed that its use may lead to learning and perception problems, as well as memory disorders. Another concern is that ketamine’s benefits may be relatively fleeting. As a result, ketamine may never develop into an accepted treatment for depression in its current form.
In fact, ketamine’s future as a therapy for depression would be uncertain even if its efficacy were more strongly established. Because ketamine has been available for decades, there is no patent for it, so pharmaceutical companies have little financial incentive to carry out research on the drug and seek approval for its use as an antidepressant.
Nonetheless, research on ketamine’s chemistry might help to identify mechanisms for addressing treatment-resistant depression that are based on glutamate-driven neuroplasticity. Indeed, pharmaceutical companies have already begun to investigate other NMDA-receptor antagonists, together with drugs that act on a different part of the glutamate system, as possible treatments for depression. This research could eventually lead to an entirely new class of antidepressant — and relief for millions of people worldwide.
Simone Grimm is a researcher in the department of psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychosomatics at the University of Zurich.
Copyright: Project Syndicate