"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Study: Ketamine is simpler than shock therapy for depression

May 30, 2023 – The desensitization drug ketamine has helped more people overcome treatment-resistant depression symptoms than electroconvulsive therapy (shock therapy), in response to a latest study.

More than half of individuals with depression who had failed antidepressants improved their symptoms after receiving twice-weekly ketamine infusions, and 41% of individuals treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) improved.

Ketamine causes a psychedelic effect called dissociation and has been shown in previous studies to have a rapid effect on depression symptoms. ECT therapy involves passing small electrical currents through the brain and inducing a temporary seizure. This is assumed to change brain chemistry related to mental health.

The findings are significant because about 30 percent of the 21 million people within the United States who are suffering from major depression have a treatment-resistant type of depression, meaning that no less than two antidepressants haven’t worked for them.

“ECT has been the gold standard for treating major depression for over 80 years,” said researcher Amit Anand, MD, a psychiatrist at Mass General Brigham and professor at Harvard Medical School, in a opinion“But it is also a controversial treatment because it can cause memory loss, requires anesthesia, and is associated with social stigma. This is the largest study ever conducted comparing ketamine and ECT treatments for depression, and the only one that also measured the effects on memory.”

The 365 people within the study were all invited to take part in the study after being referred to ECT clinics for treatment-resistant major depression. They were randomly assigned to receive either ketamine or ECT for 3 weeks. Those treated with ECT received treatment thrice every week, while those treated with ketamine received treatment twice every week.

The Results were published last week in Journal of Neurology.

The ketamine utilized in the study was administered intravenously. A nasal spray type of the drug was FDA in 2019.

Anand and his colleagues are currently studying the results of ECT and ketamine in individuals with acute suicidal depression.

“People with treatment-resistant depression suffer greatly, so it's exciting that studies like this are opening up new options for them,” said Anand. “With this real-world study, the results are immediately applicable to the clinic.”