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Surprising Science

Can Ketamine Treat Depression?

Around 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. The World Health Organization reports that depression is the leading cause of disability. It is a serious clinical problem, and leading treatments, like Prozac and Paxil, can take weeks to months to work. There may be new hope for treating depression in the form of a popular “club drug” called Special K.

Dr. Dennis Charney, the Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, has been leading a team of researchers to find a faster, more effective treatment. Dr. Charney told Big Think: “Now some people know ketamine as a recreational drug of abuse called Special K, but we have found that it has potential for the treatment of depression that had not responded to traditional antidepressant treatments and that it works faster — that it can work within several hours.”

Ketamine works very differently from available anti-depressants. Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft, for instance, block the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Instead, ketamine works through the glutamate system. Research is still underway to understand how it effects the system. The initial results are promising.

For more on Dr. Charney’s insights into this revolutionary new depression treatment, watch a clip from Big Think’s interview:


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