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High on life

This one you will NOT believe.

The federal government is using your tax dollars for research that could end up providing consumers with a dangerous new way to treat depression and a lucrative new way for drug companies to make money.

Down the K hole

Those who are college-age and spend a lot of evening hours partying with friends and going out to clubs are probably familiar with ketamine, the generic name for a “club drug” that’s commonly known as Special K. Those of us with a few more birthdays behind us may have heard about it on the news. At high doses the drug produces hallucinations, a sense of well-being and powerfulness, etc.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, ketamine is “a dissociative general anesthetic for human and veterinary use.” (“Cat valium” is another street name for the drug.) Anesthetics aren’t available to the general public, so virtually all the ketamine that shows up in clubs has been stolen from hospitals or veterinary clinics.

This is the drug that scientists at the Mood Disorders Research Unit at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD, decided to test as an antidepressant. And guess what? They were delighted with the results!


  • Subjects: 18 drug-free men and women who were diagnosed with major depression that resisted treatment
  • Half the subjects were injected with 5 mg of ketamine, followed by a second injection one week later
  • Half the subjects were injected with two doses of a placebo saline solution
  • All subjects were frequently monitored for depressive symptoms throughout the test period
  • Results: Compared to the placebo group, ketamine subjects showed “significant improvement” less than two hours after injection, and this improvement remained significant throughout one week following injection

The head of the Mood Disorders Research Unit, Carlos Zarate Jr., M.D., told WebMD Medical News that there’s currently no treatment that works this quickly and effectively on depression.

Club life in the streets

I’ve never had severe depression so intense that it resists treatment. But I’m sure that if I did I probably wouldn’t quibble over whatever therapy could lift me out of a daily mental agony. Animal anesthesia? Sure! If it works, bring it on.

Nevertheless, ketamine use has a few negative aspects that could potentially be as troublesome as severe depression.

Dr. Zarate told WebMD that side effects noted in the recent study included impaired time perception, a woozy feeling and euphoria.

If a drug causes adverse effects such as chronic headaches or persistent digestive problems, you don’t have to worry too much about patients becoming dependent on the drug. But Dr. Zarate’s list of ketamine side effects sounds exactly like a description of being “high,” which presents a strong potential for abuse and dependency.

And when ketamine use is continued over time, harsher side effects may evolve. The DEA web site notes: “Use of the drug can cause delirium, amnesia, depression, and long-term memory and cognitive difficulties.” Note the third item on that list.

As we’ve seen with other powerful drugs approved for very specific health problems, drug company reps commonly encourage doctors to prescribe medication for off-label use. So if ketamine is approved to treat severe depression, this overly simplistic message could easily filter down to doctors: It’s a very effective, fast-working antidepressant. And if it works for severe depression, just think how effective it will be for mild depression!

David Baron, D.O. – the chairman of psychiatry and behavioral health sciences at Temple University – put the problem in perspective. He told WebMD that ketamine research might lead to a better understanding of depression and antidepressants. But he added, “My concern is that we don’t take it out of context and have everybody in the street start popping ketamine to feel better.”
and another thing

Could an allergic reaction be a warning sign for Parkinson’s disease?

In yesterday’s e-Alert (“Brain Protection” 8/15/06) I told you how vitamin B6 might help protect the brain from Parkinson’s disease (PD). It seems that information might be useful for those who suffer from rhinitis, which is an allergic reaction to pet dander, dust or mold.

When researchers at the Mayo Clinic assessed almost 200 PD patients, they found a significant association between Parkinson’s and rhinitis.

Lead researcher, Dr. James Bower, told Net Doctor that chronic rhinitis triggers a powerful immune response, which may prompt inflammation in the brain and a release of chemicals that might kill brain cells.

More research will be required to establish a clear link between these two conditions. In the meantime, if you suffer from rhinitis, talk to your doctor about Parkinson’s disease risk. For more information about PD and natural treatments, see the e-Alert “Fat in the Hat” (7/14/05), which you can find at this link:

“A Randomized Trial of an N-methyl-d-aspartate Antagonist in Treatment-Resistant Major Depression” Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 63, No. 8, August 2006,
“Club Drug May Fight Depression” Denise Mann, WebMD Medical News, 8/7/06,
“Allergy Linked with Parkinson’s” Net Doctor, 8/9/06,