When I would ask people about ketamine, for those who knew about it, a few ideas were evoked: an animal sedative, a hallucinogenic party drug or an anaesthetic for children. But when I mentioned ketamine to people rarely did anyone think of it as a treatment for depression. However, right now in clinics across Australia ketamine is being developed as a way of tackling mental illness.
Mentor: Giordana Caputo
Hundreds of people have tried the treatment, with researchers reporting a more than 60 per cent success rate. The drug is almost side-effect free as well, while regular medications for depression are usually riddled with additional problems. Even more, ketamine has been off patent for some 50 years, so clinicians say it costs a fraction of the price of traditional antidepressants. So why isn’t this highly effective, cheap and almost side-effect free drug being widely used? And why is it almost completely unknown?
I went to a clinic in Brisbane to find out what the drug does, why it’s so successful and what’s holding it back. I discovered incredible stories of recovery from patients who said ketamine transformed their lives. I saw the excitement from psychiatrists who believe in the future of the drug. And I found out about the pitfalls of the treatment.
Ketamine’s ultimate downfall is its history as a party drug. While clinicians insisted the way they administered the drug had no recreational effects, patients reported having feelings like those produced by LSD and ecstasy. It’s what created controversy around the trials of ketamine as an antidepressant in New Zealand, and saw an investigation into its use. However, the psychiatrists trialling the drug are determined to make it available to thousands more people. And perhaps despite its struggles, ketamine will be the future for the treatment of mental illness.