Slowly but surely, it seems the medical world is waking up to the benefits of certain psychoactive drugs.
Long demonized for their mind-altering effects, the substances are now being treated as revolutionary treatments for mental illnesses.
Instead of taking a ‘healthy’ mind somewhere else, they’re being used to bring those who suffer back to somewhere approaching normality.
The history of medical marijuana use in the United States is long and winding, and will most likely continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
However, tests undertaken with different drugs have recently been making waves too.
Mushrooms containing psilocybin have been shown to help with PTSD and existential anxiety in those with life-threatening illnesses.
Now, research in Australia has shown ketamine could also be heralded in a similar way.
In findings that would make ‘Special K’ even more remarkable, it was observed that all symptoms of depression disappeared among those who were given the drug.
The tests were carried out on a small group of 16 patients aged over 60 years old, some of whom had found all previous medications and counseling to be ineffective.
Led by Professor Colleen Loo at the University of New South Wales, the results were published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
“What we noticed was that ketamine worked incredibly quickly and incredibly effectively,” said Professor Colleen Loo.
She also addressed a few obvious questions that skeptics may have, adding, “Some people think, ‘oh maybe it was just a drug induced temporary high’ — and it wasn’t.
“You had the woozy effects in the first hour or so, but the antidepressant effects kicked in later.
“All the symptoms of depression across the board disappeared.
“So they felt better, they were able to enjoy things, they were interested in life, they were able to eat better, they had lots more energy — the whole lot happened at once.”
Despite the encouraging results from the 16 patients, more studies are needed before ketamine has a hope of going mainstream as a medicine.
With this in mind, Professor Loo and her colleagues are now conducting a much larger, three-year trial into the drug’s effectiveness in treating depression.
The new trial will study the drug over a wider range of people and a longer period of time; both essential factors in determining its actual potential as a viable anti-depressant.
We’ll have to wait for the final results, but Professor Loo is excited about what the original trial showed.
“The whole use of ketamine to treat depression, including in the elderly, is really quite revolutionary,” she said.
“This has tremendous implications for treating depression in everyone.”
The research mirrors a similar study previously undertaken in the US.
At the time, psychiatrist James Murrough at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital commented on the speed of ketamine’s effectiveness in treating depression.
“It blew the doors off what we thought we knew about depression treatment,” he said, referring to the drug beginning to work in a matter of hours, versus the weeks sometimes needed for more traditional medication.
Those involved in both studies have warned of possible side-effects in using ketamine as an antidepressant, especially with long-term use.
But the signs are encouraging, and the studies have even provided breakthroughs in our understanding of depression.
First, the use of ketamine has revealed that the glutamate pathway, which is involved in memory and cognition, may be involved in depression. This was not known before.
Second, its effectiveness in relieving suicidal desires, regardless of whether a person is clinically depressed or not, has suggested a distinction between suicidal thoughts and depression.
It’s a distinction that may not have been realized previously.
The trial in Australia will continue.
And whether the results are as positive as hoped or not, progress is being made with every test that is undertaken.
The blanket demonization of all drugs, stemming from decades of propaganda and prohibition, appears to be on the wane.
It’s a movement that will only get stronger if studies continue to show how such substances can help when administered in the right way.