Researchers at Mass General Brigham conducted a big study.
They compared two treatments for a type of depression that’s hard to treat. This type of depression is called non-psychotic, treatment-resistant depression.
Electroconvulsive Therapy: The Traditional Approach
For over 80 years, doctors have been treating severe depression with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). But ECT has some downsides. For instance, it can cause memory loss.
People also need to be put to sleep with anesthesia for ECT. Besides, there’s a social stigma around it. Because of these reasons, researchers were keen to find other possible treatments.
Ketamine: An Alternative Solution
Ketamine is a drug that has been around for a long time. Doctors often use it to put patients to sleep for surgery. It’s also used for pain relief.
Interestingly, some studies suggested that small amounts of ketamine might help people with depression. The new study by Mass General Brigham put this idea to the test.
The Study: Ketamine vs. ECT
The study took place from 2017 to 2022. Five different places were involved. A total of 403 people participated. These individuals were split into two groups.
One group received ECT three times per week. The other group got ketamine twice per week.
These treatments lasted for three weeks. After that, the researchers kept track of the participants for six more months.
During these six months, the participants filled out questionnaires. These forms asked about their depression symptoms, memory, and how they felt about their lives.
The Findings: A Comparison of Results
The researchers discovered some interesting things. More than half of the people who got ketamine felt much better. Their depression symptoms improved by at least 50%.
They also felt better about their life. This improvement stayed with them for the entire six months of the study.
On the other hand, 41% of people who got ECT also felt much better. But there was a downside. The ECT group experienced memory loss. Some also had aches and pains in their muscles.
The people who got ketamine didn’t report these kinds of problems.
The only side effect they mentioned was a strange feeling of being disconnected from reality. But this feeling was short-lived and happened only during the treatment.
Why This Study Matters: The Importance of Alternatives
Depression is a tough illness. When traditional treatments don’t work, doctors usually recommend ECT. But now, this study shows that ketamine could be a good alternative.
It worked nearly as well as ECT in the study, and it didn’t cause the memory problems that ECT did.
What’s Next: Continuing Research
Now, the researchers want to keep studying ketamine. They’re planning another study. This time, they want to see if ketamine helps people who feel extremely sad and are thinking about suicide.
Amit Anand, a leader of the study, says that the findings are good news. He says, “People with hard-to-treat depression suffer a lot.
So, it’s great that we’re finding new ways to help them.” He believes the findings can be used right away to help patients in the real world.
If you care about depression, please read studies about vegetarianism linked to higher risk of depression, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and flavonoid-rich foods could help prevent dementia.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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