Ketamine has been used for years as an anesthetic and as a horse sedative. In the early 2000s, researchers discovered that the psychedelic possessed antidepressant properties. This finding prompted research into the medication, with the U.S. FDA recently approving a ketamine-based nasal spray indicated for the management of depression.
During the 2021 Festival of Neuroscience at the British Neuroscience Association, a whole session was devoted to talks on new research on understanding the substance’s mechanism of action and its possible use as an alcohol use disorder treatment. Professor Emma Robinson of the University of Bristol, who was the co-chair of the session, stated that ketamine’s antidepressant effects had proven effective, especially in treatment-resistant populations, noting that the effects were sustained despite the fact that most of the medication’s side-effects usually wear off in a couple of hours.
During the session, both preclinical and clinical research whose objective was to find out the mechanisms underpinning the drug’s antidepressant effects, was presented. Robinson presented work that demonstrated how ketamine modified reward pathways in the brain, stating that ketamine had a profound effect as an antidepressant in various regions like the prefrontal cortex. This, she explained, was what led to a longer-lasting modification in the brain, known as downstream neuro-adaptation. This alteration involves changes to synaptic plasticity in the prefrontal cortex.
In her research, Robinson focused on the loss of pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, which is one of the symptoms of major depressive disorder. She did so because the symptom isn’t well managed by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (“SSRIs”), which are common medications prescribed by physicians to treat depression.
She reviewed research data that examined reward behaviors in mice models of depression, which show that rodents given SSRIs demonstrated more interest in reward activities while those that were given ketamine showed no change. Additional data also revealed that mice given ketamine demonstrated more positive responses to negative experiences that had been previously learned. This was not observed in mice given venlafaxine, which is an SSRI.
Robinson noted that from these findings, it was safe to assume that cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants could positively influence new memories alone, which took time, adding that ketamine, which has an immediate effect, could modify previously learned negative memories. This discovery raises more questions, including whether ketamine’s antidepressant effects, which can only alter memories of previous experiences, wear off more quickly in comparison with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. This warrants the need for more research on the drug to be conducted, especially in humans.
As awareness about the therapeutic benefits of ketamine grows, more ketamine clinics such as those run by Delic Holdings Inc. (CSE: DELC) (OTCQB: DELCF) will sprout up, not only in Canada but North America and internationally.
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