Ketamine for Treatment of Bipolar Depression - HealthyPlace Mental Health Newsletter

Here's what's happening on the HealthyPlace site this week:

Ketamine Quickly Lifts Bipolar Depression in Treatment-Resistant Bipolar Disorder

You may have heard of the drug Ketamine. It's an anesthetic. As a recreational drug on the street, it's known as "Special K". Ketamine is one of the notorious date rape drugs. But researchers have also discovered that in patients suffering from severe bipolar depression, Ketamine can lift the depression symptoms in about 40 minutes. That's a huge step because normally it takes 2-8 weeks for today's bipolar depression medications to take effect.

The 18 patients in the study were said to have treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. They had tried an average of seven different drugs for treating their bipolar depression, and were still severely depressed; 55 percent had failed electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or shock treatment. But within 40 minutes of receiving a ketamine injection, their depressive symptoms improved; the effect persisted for at least three days. member Stephanie, who's 27 year old son has bipolar depression, describes Ketamine as nothing short of a miracle treatment for bipolar depression. She called our "Share Your Mental Health Experiences" line to say Ketamine has changed her son's life.

Ketamine side effects included anxiety, feeling woozy or loopy, headache, and dissociative symptoms, meaning a temporary sense of disconnection from reality, but researchers say it may be possible to treat patients effectively while avoiding these symptoms.

Dr. Carlos A. Zarate Jr. of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland is one of the researchers on the study. Ketamine appears to work by "resetting" the way nerve cells process glutamate, a brain chemical key for learning, memory, and other functions, according to Zarate. The problem in bipolar illness and depression, he explains, doesn't appear to be that a person has too much or too little glutamate; instead, it's likely that the way their neurons release and take up the chemical is out of whack.

Ketamine could improve treatment of bipolar illness and depression in a variety of ways, Zarate said. For example, it could be used as a means to jump-start standard drug treatment, or as an anesthetic before ECT. "It's opened the floodgate of many different directions of research, and all of them are quite encouraging," said Zarate.

In Europe, health officials are developing guidelines for how ketamine should be used and prescribed to treat bipolar disorder and depression. In the U.S., research is continuing on the drug, says Zarate, and some physicians are likely trying the drug "off-label" in their patients with bipolar illness or depression who aren't helped by standard treatments. But, according to Zarate, more research is needed on how to use the drug in the safest and most effective way.

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"Treating Anxiety" On HealthyPlace TV

Kate White has been in therapy for two years. She is the new anxiety blogger for HealthyPlace (Treating Anxiety Blog). On this week's show, Kate shares what it's like living day-to-day with anxiety and depression, how therapy, medications and self-help techniques have improved her quality of life, and the difficulty in getting others to understand what she's going through" on this week's HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show.

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Watch the interview with our guest, Kate White, currently featured on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show website until next Wednesday; watch it here after that.

Coming in August on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show

  • Sane and Living with Schizophrenia
  • Irritable Male Syndrome: Why Some Mid-Life Men Turn Mean
  • How I Overcame Deadly Depression

If you would like to be a guest on the show or share your personal story in writing or via video, please write us at: producer AT

Click here for a list of previous HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Shows.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2010, August 6). Ketamine for Treatment of Bipolar Depression - HealthyPlace Mental Health Newsletter, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: September 4, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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