Tina Wu

Ketamine may be the answer to treating depression for seniors, initial research shows.

Perhaps more commonly known as “Special K”, trials undertaken by researchers from UNSW and the Black Dog Institute have discovered another possible use for the party drug.

From a report published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, a double-blind, placebo-controlled, open-label experiment was held for 16 treatment-resistant patients over 60 years of age, who were injected with a number of subcutaneous ketamine doses over a period of five weeks.

Results found that seven patients out of 14 completers had remitted and were tolerating the ketamine injections well.

This experiment was the first of its kind in the world. “To date, most controlled studies have examined the effects of a single dose of ketamine, which does not lead to lasting remission for most participants,” the paper reported.

Remission rates have also been seen as promising, with the answer lying possibly with repeated doses of ketamine.

“Some who do not remit after one treatment may yet attain a meaningful remission after repeated treatments given at the same dose level as this treatment frequency.

“These results are promising but preliminary.”

However, possible side-effects from ketamine doses are a rising concern. Anxiety, irritability and euphoria were listed as “common acute psychiatric” side-effects in another report published by Lancet Psychiatry.

Dissociation, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and increased blood pressure were also some of the more commonly reported side-effects.

It was noted that further research must be conducted on a larger scale to determine to full extent of the short-term side-effects of ketamine, and more importantly, its impact for the long-term.

“If side-effects were assessed for, they were predominately reported in an ad-hoc fashion,” the report writes. “However, long-term side-effect risks or other potential side-effects, including cognition, urinary tract symptoms, or dependency risk, were rarely assessed or commented on in randomized controlled trials.”

These results come at a time where scientists around the world are on the cusp of a breakthrough for treating dementia through a cure for the elderly.

Australian researchers are again at the helm for this research, testing various methods such as ultrasound, vaccines and antibody drugs.