Drug treatment options for depression can take weeks for the beneficial effects to emerge, which is clearly inadequate for those at immediate risk of suicide. However, intravenous (IV) ketamine, a drug previously used as an anesthetic, has shown rapid antidepressant effects in early trials.
Researchers have now explored ketamine's effects on suicidality in patients with treatment-resistant depression, and are publishing their results in the September 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry. Ketamine acutely reduced suicidal thoughts when patients were assessed 24 hours after a single infusion. This reduction in suicidality was maintained when patients received repeated doses over the next two weeks.
Corresponding author Rebecca Price commented on these encouraging findings: "If these findings hold up in larger samples of high-risk suicidal patients, IV ketamine could prove an attractive treatment option in situations where waiting for a conventional antidepressant treatment to take effect might endanger the patient's life."
Since this was a preliminary study in a small group of depressed patients, further research is needed to replicate these results. However, the findings are promising and could result in improved treatment for suicidal patients in the future.