Special K: Treatment For Depression

Updated: December 13, 2014
Special K: Treatment For Depression

Ketamine, referred to on the street as Special K, is a general anesthetic and hallucinogen that takes about 30 to 45 minutes to take effect, and while it varies from person to person, it lasts for approximately eight hours.

Unlike other depression drugs like Prozac or Lexapro, ketamine is said to relieve symptoms in hours, not weeks. The problem is, there isn’t enough research out there to eliminate the risk of side effects. Regardless, clinics are offering the expensive treatment to those who are willing to do whatever it takes to feel better.

At a medical conference in Phoenix on Tuesday, a privately held company called Naurex reported that its drug caused no such psychotic side effects in a midstage trial of the drug GLYX-13 involving about 400 patients. Reportedly, the drug showed signs of reducing depression in about half the patients tested.

“It’s definitely the most promising compound in the depression space in terms of effect and durability,” said Harry M. Tracy, the publisher of the newsletter NeuroPerspective, which follows companies developing drugs for psychiatry.

Besides they hallucinogenic qualities with the drug, which can make people trip for the first few hours, there are other risks, like increase in blood pressure, heart rate and potential decrease in brain function.

But the reason why ketamine (usually in the form of injections ranging in cost from about $300 – $1000 per treatment) is in such demand is because of it’s instant effects. Most people suffering from debilitating depression, even becoming suicidal, don’t have a lot of time to experiment with other drugs.

“I look at the cost of not using ketamine — for me it was certain death,” said Dennis Hartman, 48, a businessman from Seattle.

He said that after a lifetime of severe depression, he had chosen a suicide date when he entered a clinical trial of ketamine at the National Institutes of Health two years ago. His depression lifted and since then he has gone to a clinic in New York every two months or so for infusions. He started the Ketamine Advocacy Network to raise awareness of the treatment.

Though the treatments seem to be helping a lot of people (again, no research yet on long-term affects), there are questions about how quickly the affect wears off and how reasonable it is for these patients to be able to afford such an expensive drug or procedure when it’s not covered by insurance.

The market of these ketamine variations seem to be trying to make a difference and save lives, even if it does mean capitalizing on the urgency that comes with severe depression.