This morning, NPR’s Morning edition ran a news report on some medicines that may help in the fight against depression. What makes this an interesting story is that the drugs are not typical (a street drug and a motion sickness drug) and that they work quite quickly–some even in one day! In addition, these drugs do not appear to work on the neurotransmitters serotonin or norepinephrine–the focus of most of our current antidepressants–but on glutamate, another neurotransmitter.
Listen to or read the story here.
Ketamine (known on the street at Special K) may have some capacity to form new connections between neurons. The assumption is that those who suffer with depression have had significant loss of neural connections.
Like with every drug, there may be some serious side effects with Ketamine: experiencing light trails (hence why clubbers use it) and foggy memories.
Findings, however initial, should (a) encourage us that better relief may be possible for millions of people, (b) remind us how little we really know about the brain, and (c) remember that those who suffer from serious depression and who seek medical treatment also must suffer with the experience of being a guinea pig of practitioners. This last point cannot be underscored enough. Medicines are never a panacea. And, we rarely can tell why one drug seems to work with some and doesn’t with others. In fact, much of what we know about drugs is shrouded in theory. Give a serotonin boosting compound to depressed people and they seem to get better suggests that the problem is that depressed people have too little serotonin in their synaptic clefts. Of course, this is mostly theory since some data may suggest that some have lower levels of serotonin and are not depressed at all.