Promising results in a trial of ketamine for severe depression could lead to treatment becoming more affordable.

Research has found that more than one in five participants achieved total remission from their symptoms after a month of bi-weekly injections. While a third had their symptoms improve by at least 50 per cent. Associate Professor Shanthi Sarma, one of the authors of the study, explained the results of the trial.

Ketamine was developed in the 1960s, it is considered a safe anaesthetic that is often used in the field of retrieval medicine. “Most notably it was actually used by the Thai caving rescue team. When they had to get the children out of the cave. To sedate them without stopping their breathing.” People have also noticed that it also has an effect on mood.

The first trials with the use of ketamine and depression started around about 20 years ago. “The first trials looked at intravenous ketamine. So this is in people that have not responded to multiple other medications. Ketamine worked really rapidly. So within hours, compared to normal antidepressants that take several weeks to work. And it was far more effective.”

A recent trial involved 184 people who were severely treatment-resistant. On average they had tried at least three to four different antidepressants. “Participants came in and were given either ketamine or a placebo. When we compared it to a placebo, it was 10 times more effective. Probably one of the biggest advances in the last few years in terms of medications for depression.”

Listen to the Professor Shanthi’s full conversation with Leah below.