Monday, 23 August 2010

Ketamine Magic - Recreational Drugs to the Rescue

Once again, the idiotic practice of banning recreational drugs outright has been exposed for delaying important research that may help millions of people. This practice, often initiated by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has seen the shutdown of research into drugs like cannabis, LSD, MDMA(ecstasy), ketamine etc. The sole reason is that people may abuse these drugs although no consideration is given for the real harms and instead, is determined by the perceived harms. The problem is that the perceived harms are dreamed up by bureaucrats, moral crusaders and anti-drug nutters. The many possible benefits are played down as an unacceptable risk compared to the danger of abusing these drugs, usually without any evidence to prove it. Just like stem cell research is hindered by religious groups, drugs that become popular for recreational use are quickly banned outright by anti-drug zealots for similar reasons. Stuff the science and potential to help hundreds of millions of sufferers - we can’t have people getting high and enjoying themselves. It’s just immoral!

The neurobiology of psychedelic drugs: Implications for the treatment of mood disorders
After a pause of nearly 40 years in research into the effects of psychedelic drugs, recent advances in our understanding of the neurobiology of psychedelics, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin and ketamine have led to renewed interest in the clinical potential of psychedelics in the treatment of various psychiatric disorders. Recent behavioural and neuroimaging data show that psychedelics modulate neural circuits that have been implicated in mood and affective disorders, and can reduce the clinical symptoms of these disorders. These findings raise the possibility that research into psychedelics might identify novel therapeutic mechanisms and approaches that are based on glutamate-driven neuroplasticity.

Now, the really good news. Last week, researchers from Yale University reported that a horse anaesthetic and party drug called ketamine has shown an incredible ability to treat depression, bipolar and stress. They even went as far as to say, 'It's like a magic drug -- one dose can work rapidly and last for seven to 10 days'. When low key scientists use terminology like 'magic drug', you know they’re on to something big.

Interestingly, my doctor told me about some addiction centres in Melbourne who were having success with ketamine being used to reduce tolerance to opiates like heroin, morphine etc. Maybe they are related in some way? The scientists from Yale said that ketamine was not only a treatment for depression but it  physically repairs the brain by acting on a pathway that forms new synaptic connections between neurons. Who knows what this may also lead to in the struggle to treat opiate addiction?

'Party Drug' For Depression?
William Weir
August 2010

Known to some as 'Special K', ketamine could be developed into a safe medication.
Yale researchers hope to develop a form of ketamine — an effective but very dangerous antidepressant — that's safe, easy to use and effective within hours of taking it.

A new study sheds light on how the drug affects operations in the brain, and why it works so fast compared to other antidepressants. The study was led by Ronald Duman, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Yale, and George Aghajanian, professor of pharmacology. It will be published Friday in the journal Science.

The most popular antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft, which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), can take weeks before patients feel their effects. Saying that it's "like a magic drug," Duman notes that one dose of ketamine works fast and can last for up to 10 days.

"Clearly, there is a need for a ketamine-like drug with rapid results," he said. Adding to its benefits is that studies indicate that about 70 percent of patients who are resistant to other antidepressants respond to ketamine.

Ketamine was developed in the early 1960s and used as an anaesthetic, commonly for soldiers in Vietnam. In the 1990s, it gained a reputation as a "party drug" (known as "Special K") and has been known to cause short-term psychotic symptoms.

For about 10 years, its potential as an antidepressant has been known. Because of its potency, though, it is only administered intraveneously in clinical settings, which significantly limits its use. It's usually prescribed in low doses for patients suffering severe depression who have been resistant to other treatments.

With new information about how it works, though, Duman believes a form of ketamine could be developed that's much safer and more convenient to take.

"That would be the ultimate goal, to develop the drug as a pill," he said.

Unlike SSRI medications, ketamine does not involve the chemical serotonin as a primary function. By testing ketamine on rats, the researchers were able to examine how the drug worked its way through the brain. What they found was that ketamine helped restore synaptic connections between the neurons, which had been damaged by chronic stress. It does this partly by activating an enzyme called mTOR, setting of a chain reaction.

"Ketamine is able to jumpstart and get these systems revved up again," Duman said.

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