Ketamine: Life Saver or Club Drug?

I stumble through the hallway intersection, bouncing off of bodies and backpacks while my ears cling to seconds of passing conversations — “What did you get on problem 3?” “Can I copy your Spanish homework” and “I’m going to kill myself.”

As a society we have become numb to these words, that we unconsciously spit out after failing a math test, or knocking over a cup of coffee in the morning, while millions of people simultaneously struggle to strip themselves of a very real urge to end their lives.

Zoloft, Lexapro, Prozac, and Paxil are rated among the most effective antidepressants used to treat victims of depression and suicidal thoughts(4). ‘Most effective’ is a deceiving term however, because every year of the 13–14 million Americans that suffer from major depression 30–40% will not fully recover through treatment using standard antidepressants(1). This leaves millions of Americans at further risk of developing drug addiction, and suicidal thoughts if they fail to receive adequate treatment.

Doctors seem to have found a potential breakthrough in treating these destructive mental health disorders through the use of ketamine — an anesthetic also abused in society as a hallucinogen which will be able to provide victims with immediate relief although it has not yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)(2). Despite the potential for the abuse of ketamine as a “club drug”, it is crucial to our society that the FDA approve the use of ketamine for treatment of extreme depression and suicidal thoughts, because it is more efficient than current ineffective antidepressants and its immediate results provide psychiatrists with a literal life-saver for suicidal individuals.

Because of the low recovery rates through the use of antidepressants, Dr. Fiefel suspected that existing depression drugs weren’t helping his patients and began to use ketamine as treatment. A study later published in 2008 on antidepressants confirmed his beliefs, claiming antidepressants “aren’t much better than a placebo”(1).

For the millions of individuals that fail to experience relief through antidepressants, Ketamine presents an opportunity for immediate treatment. Although it remains unclear how this new treatment exactly works, doctors know that Ketamine acts completely different than antidepressants, which explains why those that do not benefit from antidepressants experience relief from ketamine within hours. The millions of victims of severe depression and suicide will not find relief in a mere placebo drug, and in order to save the lives of these millions of Americans the FDA needs to approve the use of medicinal ketamine.

Ketamine has the ability to diminish suicidal thoughts within hours, and the potential to immediately save lives of individuals in a chaotic state of mind. Since suicide can result from a variety of conditions, doctors have struggled to find a universal treatment for suicidal thoughts. The effects of ketamine are immediate and short-term, providing suicidal individuals with a crucial window of time to create future treatment plans, regardless of the origin of these thoughts.

As researcher Elizabeth Ballard stated, “we need suicide treatments so greatly in psychiatry. Ketamine could be a bridge for someone who comes in who is suicidal, and for the 3 days that its effective, they can be hooked up with outpatient resources, other medications, psychotherapy.” (2). When an individual is in a catastrophic state of mind, unable to reason with, and experiencing suicidal thoughts, ketamine is able to provide immediate relief that will last for days/weeks. This window of time allows medical professionals to set up further long term treatment plans while preventing any catastrophic actions. The immediate effects of ketamine give this drug the potential to quite literally be a life-saver.

Suspicions surrounding use of this drug stem from its reputation of being a club drug used to experience hallucinations, and that providing individuals with ketamine makes it more accessible in society and increases potential for abuse. Unfortunately this general concern is applicable to many prescription medicines. However, if the correct patient is provided with the correct dosage, we will minimize drug abuse incidents, and the side effects “go away as soon as the infusion is over, patients don’t have hallucinations.” as observed by Anesthesiologist Enrique Abreu through the successful treatment of his patients using ketamine.

Ketamine is a unique drug in the treatment of depression/suicidal thoughts. It is the first of its kind to be found to effectively and almost instantly provide relief for victims of extreme depression and suicidal thoughts. Ketamine is a life-saver, and needs to be approved so that the millions of individuals that are currently unable to find relief from “placebo” antidepressants can return to their normal lives, which are currently in jeopardy.