A club drug called “Special K” is generating a lot of buzz among researchers who study depression.
That’s because “Special K,” which is actually an FDA-approved anesthetic named ketamine, can relieve even suicidal depression in a matter of hours. And it works on many patients who haven’t responded to current antidepressants like Prozac.
Those traditional drugs, which act on the brain’s serotonin system, can take more than a month to kick in, and don’t work for up to 40 percent of people with major depression.
“We can take care of a migraine in hours,” says Carlos Zarate, a brain researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health who is studying ketamine. “So why do we have to wait weeks or months with depression?”
Ketamine itself isn’t likely to become the next big drug for depression because it has troubling side effects, including hallucinations, Zarate says. But understanding how ketamine works could lead to safer drugs that are just as effective, he says.