Ketamine Has a Reputation: Not Just for Pain, but for Depression

Ketamine Has a Reputation: Not Just for Pain, but for Depression

By Staff.

We’ve reported widely on the experiences of chronic pain sufferers and the use of ketamine for fibromyalgia, CRPS, and other pain conditions.  If you missed the reporting, you can read it here.

Now, a large-scale population analysis shows that ketamine also has a “reputation” as an antidepressant.  Ketamine’s medical usage and reputation has largely been curtailed because it can also be a drug of abuse — the street drug known as “Special K.”

Ketamine is reputed as a treating depression. But, it hasn’t been tested in a large clinical trial to prove this – just small studies of fewer than 100 patients.  Now, in the largest study of its kind, researchers at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego mined the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) database for depression symptoms in patients taking ketamine for pain.  They found that depression was reported half as often among the more than 41,000 patients who took ketamine, as compared to patients who took any other drug or drug combination for pain.

Their study was published in Scientific Reports.

“Current FDA-approved treatments for depression fail for millions of people because they don’t work or don’t work fast enough,” said senior author Ruben Abagyan, PhD, Professor of Pharmacy.  “This study extends small-scale clinical evidence that ketamine can be used to alleviate depression, and provides needed solid statistical support for wider clinical applications and possibly larger scale clinical trials.”

The FAERS database they analyzed contains more than 8 million patient records.  For the 41,000 of these that used ketamine, they applied a mathematical algorithm to look for statistically significant differences in reported depression symptoms for each patient.

“While most researchers and regulators monitor the FAERS database for increased incidences of symptoms in order to spot potentially harmful drug side effects, we were looking for the opposite — lack of a symptom,” Cohen said.

They found a 50 percent decrease in the incidence of depression symptoms in those who took ketamine compare to those who took any other drug combination for pain.  Those who took ketamine reported less pain as compared to patients who received other pain medications.

The research noted that it is possible that another factor common to patients taking ketamine was driving the antidepressant effect, such as the fact that ketamine also relieves pain.  That’s why they compared ketamine patients with patients taking other pain medications.  That control group eliminated the possibility that people who take ketamine have less depression because they have less pain.  Abagyan says it’s still possible, though unlikely, the effect could be due to a still unidentified confounding factor.

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Authored by: Staff

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Roberta Glick

I am very concerned about the increasingly widespread touting of ketamine as a ” safe” med for chronic pain and now depression. While, at the same time, there is a war on use of such opioids as buprenorphine. I have EDS, Fibbromyalgia, CFS, osteoarthritis, myofacsial pain syndrome, spinal stenosis and other auto immune conditions which combine to cause chronic, un mitigating pain. Medicare refuses to cover buprenorphine as I am not an addict. Buprenorphine is the only medication that allows me to function with no side effects, etc. this is after years of being on every medication known. Of all ketamine was the most frightening and, to my mind, dangerous. We seem to forget that it was originally developed to euthanize horses. We seem to forget it was ( is) a street drug, ” Special K” also known as the date rape drug. It is highly hallucinogenic and has side effects to terrifying to even describe. I was kept ” under” for 48 hrs. On Ketamine between two horrific back surgeries. That was 5 years ago. I truthfully think that it altered my brain chemistry and that I still feel it’s effects today. 3 years ago Ketamine was used in a surgery on my brother. It killed him when his BP shot to stroke levels. I was shocked when I was offered Ketamine in an ER FOR a sprained ankle! I fight each day of my life to have some quality of live because of the daily pain caused by my conditions. I am denied a relatively benign opioid but Ketamine wouldn’t be denied. This is cruel, senseless, dangerous and totally beyond reasonable comprehension.


Orrrr, consider that Ketamine can reallly mess with a person’s head, so severely depressed people are not good candidates for ketamine in the first place! Why not CONDUCT a properly structured and controlled study rather than cheaply selectively mining old records to ‘prove’ someone’s foregone conclusion??? We are not labrats .. we are himan beings in sevwre chronic pain! Ugggh.


How do people afford this? On disability due to pain. My grocery money goes to Rx copays. So basically, health is for the wealthy? Just too depressing.

Jean Price

I really don’t enjoy these types articles…or these types of “pseudo” studies…where a pile of basically “unrelated” data is analyzed for the researchers specific choice of information…just to show a result! Like this one…finding depression wasn’t noted as a side effect of ketamine therapy for pain…and therefore ASSUMING that means ketamine could really be a great choice for treating depression! Maybe it is, yet I see this data as merely pointing researchers in that direction of studying ketamine IN DETAIL for treating depression…rather than acting like its a (previously) researched and acceptable treatment already!

To say the decrease in pain which ketamine produced in patients “might” have influenced their NOT having any depression to report is like stating the obvious, to me! Duh!! Just maybe pain DOES impact our feelings! Is there any doubt?! Honestly, maybe there IS something here to be exited about for use in treating depression…yet much clearer, more SPECIFIC data related to the singular diagnosis of depression will be needed, to prove the therapeutic efficacy for use of ketamine with those patients! So, THIS is more like just a suspicion or a hint…NOT a real study…no matter what their supposed algorithm” was! And it all feels sort of like fake news!!

Michael G Langley, MD

The only problem I see with evaluating the relief of depression in chronic pain patients is the gorilla in the room!! If one is in poorly controlled intractable pain, one is going to be depressed! Relieving that pain, alone, might be enough to change the statistics about depression in those people. Ketamine, being a dissociative anesthetic, could help the patients escape the emotional stress that causes depression, in the absence of physical pain. The study needs to be done in people without pain and with a history of chronic depression.

Kahty C

I have been following this since the 1980’s, and in all of these years not much has advanced. I spoke with a Researcher over a decade ago, after considering this as an option. The “Studies” involved some strenuous long tests and procedures. They were doing a “Controlled Coma” as pain treatment. It sounded a little sketchy, and they portrayed a version on the TV Show House. It sounded like the “Treatment” would have to be repeated at intervals. Of course nothing verifiable or available came from that research. This “Research” does not have the Profit potential of the many ineffective drugs already on the market. The Clinical Trials will take years and unless Pharma can somehow change a regulation to relabel it for maximum profitability, the research will be slow.
The public is unaware of the Ineffectiveness of these Pharma products anyway, due to extensive marketing. Pharma even Co opted the “Mental Health Campaign” since they have gotten the Clinics to focus on giving out Medications as a cost saving measure. They undermined any Federal Regulations about Ratios of Therapist or Physicians to Patients. It is Cost Effective to just give out random Pharma products. The new DSMV V made it impossible to track the effectiveness of these “treatments”