Ketamine — a medication primarily used as an anesthetic — may offer a fast and effective way to reduce suicidal thoughts among individuals with depression. This is the finding of a new study by researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, NY.
Research suggests that ketamine could be a fast-acting and effective treatment to reduce suicidal thoughts.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; each year, around 44,193 people in the U.S. take their own lives, and a further 494,169 are hospitalized for self-harm injuries.
Depression is by far the most common disorder underlying a suicide attempt; around 30–70 percent of those who attempt suicide have major depression or bipolar disorder.
But how can you tell if a friend or loved one with depression is having suicidal thoughts? Verbal threats of suicide or being a burden to others, an increase in the use of drugs or alcohol, and changes in mood can all be warning signs.
Of course, it is not possible to predict whether a person will attempt suicide, which highlights the need for speedy treatments that can reduce suicidal thoughts.
“There is a critical window in which depressed patients who are suicidal need rapid relief to prevent self-harm,” explains study leader Dr. Michael Grunebaum, a research psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center.
“Currently available antidepressants can be effective in reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with depression,” he adds, “but they can take weeks to have an effect.”
Dr. Grunebaum explains, “Suicidal, depressed patients need treatments that are rapidly effective in reducing suicidal thoughts when they are at highest risk. Currently, there is no such treatment for rapid relief of suicidal thoughts in depressed patients.”
Previous research, however, has pointed to ketamine as a potential candidate, after finding that low doses of the drug may help to reduce suicidal ideation in people with depression.
Dr. Grunebaum and colleagues set out to investigate this association further with their new study. Specifically, they investigated whether or not ketamine could reduce suicidal thoughts within 24 hours of administration.
The findings were recently published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.