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.