We have previously reported numerous studies that demonstrate ketamine’s remarkable ability to treat even the most stubborn cases of clinical depression. Ketamine is so effective it is also known to reduce suicidal thoughts in depression patients. However, most of these currently available ketamine treatments come with one big limitation — they cost a lot!
For instance, a single dose of S-ketamine nasal spray, which is an FDA-approved and patented anti-depressant, will cost you about $800. Plus, you’ll have to spend another $350 or more (depending on the clinic you chose) for each treatment session you take.
Moreover, the effect of one dose of S-ketamine lasts up to a few days or weeks only. Depending on a patient’s clinical situation, they may be required to take multiple doses and treatment sessions. Do you think most people can afford a $1000 weekly depression treatment?
The point is, if you’re not rich, the cost of current ketamine treatments might end up making you more depressed. However, there is good news — recently, a team of researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Black Dog Institute in Sydney successfully tested a low-cost version of ketamine that can treat severe depression.
A single dose of this generic ketamine drug is likely to cost around $5, reducing the overall treatment cost by over 60 percent as the patients will now only have to bear the clinic session fee.
“With the S-ketamine nasal spray, you are out of pocket by about $1,200 for every treatment by the time you pay for the drug and the procedure, whereas for generic ketamine, you’re paying around $300-350 for the treatment including the drug cost,” said Colleen Loo, lead researcher and a professor of psychiatry at UNSW.
Testing generic ketamine for depression
To precisely assess the effects of their low-cost drug, the researchers conducted a double-blind trial involving 179 individuals with treatment-resistant depression (a severe depressive disorder that can evade conventional antidepressant treatment). For one month, all these patients received two injections every week and were monitored for two hours.
Some of these patients received generic ketamine injections and others received Midazolam injections, a general anesthetic (a placebo). What’s more interesting is that neither the patients nor the people who administered the drugs to them knew who received what (this is what a double-blind trial means).
Also, the researchers chose Midazolam as the placebo because although it doesn’t treat depression, it has the same side effects as generic ketamine.
Loo further explained, “In using midazolam – which is not a treatment for depression, but does make you feel a bit woozy and out of it – you have much less chance of knowing whether you have received ketamine, which has similar acute effects.”
All the patients were asked to notice the changes in their mood at the end of the trial and compare it with how they felt one month later. The results were surprising, 20 percent of the participants who received generic ketamine had no symptoms of clinical depression. They achieved 100 percent remission within one month of the treatment.
Meanwhile, only two percent of participants from the placebo group improved their depression symptoms. Moreover, in one-third of the ketamine group participants, their self-reported symptoms were reduced by 50 percent after the trial.
What makes generic ketamine so special?
When every known treatment for depression fails to improve the condition in a patient, they are usually prescribed electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which involves electric stimulation of a patient’s brain.
Generally, scientists don’t test new drugs on patients who have received ECT. But surprisingly, the generic ketamine drug trial also involved participants who had ECT in the past, and even they showed improvements. This makes the results even more significant.
“For people with treatment-resistant depression – so those who have not benefitted from different modes of talk-therapy, commonly prescribed antidepressants, or electroconvulsive therapy – 20 percent remission is actually quite good,” said Loo.
According to a report from WHO, depression affects 280 million people and is the leading cause of suicide, causing over 700,000 deaths every year across the globe. Professor Loo and her team strongly believe that their low-cost ketamine has the potential to provide an affordable, effective, and feasible depression treatment that the world is in dire need of.
The study is published in The British Journal of Psychiatry.
Was this helpful?