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by | May 31, 2012 | Alcohol and Drugs, Featured


The dissociative anesthetic Ketamine has been shown to improve bipolar depression and reduce suicidal thoughts in patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder within minutes, according to a study published in Biological Psychiatry.   The study, conducted by a group of researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), replicates research conducted in 2010 on bipolar patients, an important part of the scientific method that ensures the original findings weren’t accidental and can be repeated.

Patients receiving ketamine reported feeling significant improvement in their symptoms within 40 minutes of being administered the drug, and felt the effects for over three days after a single dosage.  Overall, 79% of patients experienced improved mood while on ketamine, compared with 0% of patients given a placebo.  Patients also reported a decrease in suicidal thoughts, an important finding given that bipolar disorder  is among the most lethal of all mental disorders.
“Our finding that a single infusion of ketamine produces rapid antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects within one hour and that is fairly sustained is truly exciting,” said Dr. Carlos Zarate, who led the study. “We think that these findings are of true importance given that we only have a few treatments approved for acute bipolar depression, and none of them have this rapid onset of action; they usually take weeks or longer to have comparable antidepressant effects as ketamine does.”
Though antidepressants have long been used to treat bipolar and other forms of depression, their effectiveness is not universal, with some patients responding well and others showing little if any improvement.  Additionally, antidepressants often require weeks of regular use before their effects are felt, and several different types of antidepressants may have to be prescribed before an effective match is found.
Bipolar disorder is an often debilitating mood disorder that affects 4.4% of the U.S. population at some point in their lifetimes, and 2.4% of the world population.  The two main components of bipolar disorder are prolonged periods of depression, referred to as depressive episodes, and periods of heightened and increased energy, known as manic (or hypomanic) episodes.
Symptoms of depression include:

  1. Feelings of emptiness, guilt, and self-hatred.
  2. Impaired thinking.
  3. Inability to experience joy.
  4. Increased or decreased sleep.
  5. Change in appetite.
  6. Diminished energy and preoccupation with death.

Symptoms of mania include:

  1. Euphoric or extremely irritable mood.
  2. Distractibility.
  3. Accelerated and/or delusional thinking.
  4. Decreased inhibitions.
  5. Decreased sleep.
  6. Increased physical activity and risky behaviors.

There are four types of the disorder recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): Bipolar 1, Bipolar 2, Cyclothymic, and Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.  The rates of suicide and suicide attempts for people with bipolar disorder are greater than that of schizophrenics.  Between 25 and 50 percent of all people diagnosed bipolar attempt suicide at least once in their lifetimes, compared to 20 to 40 percent of people with schizophrenia.  Approximately 10 to 15 percent of people diagnosed with Bipolar 1 successfully commit suicide, while the rate of suicide for schizophrenic tops out at 10 percent.
Those with significantly elevated anxiety levels are most likely to succeed in their suicide attempts.  Mood disorders are the psychiatric conditions most commonly associated with suicide.  Suicides are more likely to occur during manic episodes than depressive ones.
Warning signs of suicide include:

  1. Use of illegal drugs or drinking alcohol heavily.
  2. Talking, writing, or drawing about death, including writing suicide notes and speaking of items that can cause physical harm, such as pills, guns, or knives.
  3. Spending long periods of time alone.
  4. Giving away possessions.
  5. Acting aggressive or suddenly appearing calm.

Ketamine was introduced in 1962 as a tranquilizer used in both human and veterinary medicine.  In recent years the drug has become popular with teens and young adults at dance clubs and raves, and is often referred to as Special K or Kit Kat.