Are Street Drugs a Viable Treatment for Depression?

using ketamine as a treatment option
Dr. Drew Rubin

A new study was released stating that the drug Ketamine could be a successful treatment for symptoms of depression, most specifically anhedonia.

Before you ask an-he-what-ya, anhedonia is the medical term for one of the common aspects of depression, the inability to experience pleasure.

And for many who never grew up with 90s street drugs, the name “Ketamine” may also be a mystery. It is also referred to as “Special K,” and, as one Gawker writer termed it, “The stupidest drug ever.”

The report, echoed on Newsweek claims that ketamine “can help quickly reverse anhedonia in patients with treatment-resistant bipolar depression (also known as manic-depression or bipolar disorder).”

One doctor, Dr. Sanjay Mathew, a psychologist, who was not part of the study, admits that it sounds plausible and says that most drugs for depression don’t normally “work in this way, and so rapidly.”

A Viable Choice?

While this would be an immense help to so many that truly struggle with their depression and other mental illnesses, those who have used the drug recreationally are skeptical.

“As a downer, it brings you way too down,” one cynical user wrote. “As a club drug, it makes your experience way too solitary to fully enjoy the group experience of going out. As a sedative, it sure works, but who actually enjoys being on anesthesia? Certainly not me, and you probably wouldn’t either.” 

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, as there are certainly many aspects to consider. Like most drugs, it is not (legally) available without a prescription; it has also not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in treating anhedonia. One part of the official report stated, “Another interesting finding was that, after the ketamine infusion, individuals taking lithium experienced greater anti-anhedonic effects than those receiving valproate when the antidepressant effect was controlled for. This result could be interpreted in two ways: either valproate caused a deficit in the anti-anhedonic effect of ketamine, or lithium enhanced the anti-anhedonic effect of ketamine.” So certainly, further tests will be needed before it becomes a wide-spread treatment. 

Regardless, there is always a soft upswing of hope when new ideas emerge for treating those of us with depression. As debilitating as it can be, those afflicted are often thrilled to look into a new way to cope.