In a new study from Lund University in Sweden, researchers compared the effects of intravenous ketamine treatment with ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatment in severe depression.
The results support the view that ketamine is a possible treatment, but also show that ECT treatment helps more people.
In recent years, ketamine has emerged as a new treatment for depression, after studies have shown it to be a fast-acting antidepressant.
In this study, the researchers examined the antidepressant effect of ketamine and compared it with ECT, currently the preferred treatment for very severe depression.
A total of 63% of the patients in the ECT group recovered after the treatment, compared with 46% among those who received racemic ketamine intravenously.
While both ECT and ketamine can successfully treat a severely depressed patient, they may not always cure the underlying condition, as depression is generally recurrent.
Approximately as large a proportion in the ECT group as in the ketamine group had a relapse within 12 months.
The team did not see the rapid effect of ketamine that other studies have shown. Instead, the results indicate that the effect is cumulative, and increases with the number of treatments.
Older people generally responded less well to ketamine, while younger people responded as well to ECT as to ketamine.
Six treatment sessions were required for both treatments in order to have a full recovery. More participants in the ketamine treatment chose to leave the study, than in the group treated with ECT.
In the group that received ECT, however, it was somewhat more common with persistent memory difficulties.
These results suggest that intravenous ketamine does not cause serious side effects in this patient group.
The team says no treatment should be overused, but ketamine should be an acceptable alternative for patients with severe depression.
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The study is published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. One author of the study is Pouya Movahed Rad.
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