A clinic offering ketamine treatment for depression has opened in Victoria this month.
The drug is now being used in three clinics across Australia, to target treatment-resistant depression — a type of depression that doesn’t respond to anti-depressant medication. Low doses of ketamine have been found to “quickly and significantly” improve depressive symptoms.
According to the Black Dog Institute, one third of patients with depression do not respond to antidepressants.
What is ketamine?
Ketamine is commonly used in medicine and by vets as an anaesthetic. To clarify, it’s a dissociative drug, meaning it acts on brain chemicals, and can stop the brain from receiving pain messages.
Additionally, ketamine is also used and sold illegally as a hallucinogen, often in white powder form.
The Advanced Interventions in Mood Disorders Clinic (AIM) recently opened at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
It provides intravenous (into the vein) treatment to eligible patients who haven’t reacted to antidepressants or other treatments, as well as people who can’t take medication due to side effects. Over a three week period, patients receive two ketamine treatments per week, lasting 40 minutes each.
AIM clinic director Professor Chris Davey told TDA that while responses vary, the clinic has been treating patients “who have tried everything,” with several reporting “really good responses”.
“I don’t think that ketamine is the magic answer to depression, it’s not a cure-all. It’s just another option and it’s good for people who are running out of options.”
Risks of ketamine treatment
Researchers at the Black Dog Institute say ketamine treatment is safe with ongoing psychiatric support.
Common side effects of low-dose ketamine treatment can include feeling drowsy or disoriented and changes to blood pressure and heart rate. However, these symptoms usually resolve in the hours after treatment. AIM patients are monitored for 90 minutes after receiving treatment.
AIM’s ketamine treatment is not available to patients under 25.
Further, ketamine is not currently listed as an approved Therapeutic Goods Administration drug, meaning it’s not eligible for Government support.
Black Dog Institute researcher Professor Colleen Loo said some patients can access the treatment privately, with significant out of pocket costs.
Clinical studies of ketamine treatment are currently in progress for younger people, aged 16 to 24.
Meanwhile, two other clinics currently offer the treatment, in NSW and QLD.
Professor Loo said access to the treatment is limited, and described “responsibly” giving more people access to “high quality” care as the “next challenge”.