This depression drug rapidly improves cognitive function, lowers suicide risk

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In a new study from Columbia University, researchers found ketamine, a drug used to treat mood disorders and severe depression, improved the thinking and reasoning of those who expressed thoughts of killing themselves within 24 hours.

They found that one dose of ketamine not only reduced the severity of depression in people with suicide ideation, but also made them feel safer and less likely to harm themselves because it rapidly diminished their suicidal ideation.

In the study, the team followed 78 participants suffering with major depressive disorder and clinically strong suicidal ideation.

They found that a standard dose of ketamine given intravenously produced a rapid improvement of suicidal thoughts in some individuals, and part of this improvement was correlated with an improvement in problem-solving and thinking more clearly.

This improvement in neurocognition—and suicidal ideation—occurred even when some of these individuals did not show comparable improvement in depressive symptoms.

The findings help gain a better understanding of how ketamine works in the brain and how quickly it can improve distorted thinking. Being able to think more clearly can make someone feel less suicidal.

The study compared the effects of intravenously administered ketamine—not yet approved by the FDA but provided off-label at treatment centers throughout the country—to midazolam, a sedative prescribed for anxiety and depression.

It found greater cognitive improvements in thinking and reasoning in those who were given the ketamine.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for those ages 10-34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States.

90% of those who die by suicide in the U.S. have a psychiatric illness and 60 percent of those people suffer a major depressive episode before a suicide attempt.

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The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. One author of the study is John Mann, MD.

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