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Ketamine’s antidepressant effects may be linked to brain’s opioid system

Published on 06/09/18 at 10:04am
Image Credit: ZEISS Microscopy https://www.flickr.com/photos/zeissmicro/24327909026

Ketamine’s antidepressant effect works through the activation of the brains opioid receptors, a new study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests.

While Ketamine was first synthesized in 1962, and was first approved for use as an anaesthetic in 1970, it wasn’t until the 21st century until the drug’s antidepressant effects were recognised by medical professionals. However the complex process through which ketamine relieves depression remains unclear.

Nevertheless Alan Schatzberg and Nolan Williams of Stanford University have suggested that the activation of the opioid system, rather than the dissociative effects of ketamine, produce the antidepressant effects of the drug in adults with treatment resistant depression.

The study which sought to determine whether opioid receptor antagonism, prior to the administration of intravenous ketamine, reduces the drug’s antidepressant or dissociative effects, gave a group of patients either naltrexone (a drug that blocks the effects of opioids) or a placebo before giving them an intravenous injection of ketamine. The majority of those patients involved in the trial completed both combinations in a randomised order.

The researchers thus found that while naltrexone did not reduce dissociative effects, they did find that the opioid blocker dramatically reduced ketamine’s antidepressant effects.

As such the researchers concluded that while the dissociative effects of ketamine are not mediated through the opioid system, the opioid system does appear to be linked to the antidepressant effects of the drug.

Louis Goss

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