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Ketamine drug to treat depression acts like an opioid, says new study

Posted at 3:13 PM, Aug 29, 2018

As more people turn to ketamine infusions to treat depression, researchers issue a new warning, comparing the drug to opioids.

The infusions are offered at clinics located across the country. 

Scientists believe ketamine may treat symptoms of depression by blocking receptors on the brain.

At Florida’s Ketamine Health Centers, clinical director May Nunez says they've seen an 85 percent success rate.

“A lot of our patients come in, and they are highly suicidal. They are very treatment resistant,” explains Nunez. “They're experiencing high levels of depression. They have one infusion administered, and they come out. I'm basically looking at those symptoms are gone.”

But new research from Stanford University is raising questions about using the drug over a long period of time.

When patients in the study took an opioid blocker, researchers said their symptoms didn't improve, suggesting ketamine has to activate opioid receptors before treating depression.

Researchers say that doesn't mean you shouldn't use ketamine, but instead, that more studies need to be done to fully understand ketamine before it's widely used in the long-term.

Nunez says the side effects she's seen have been minimal.

“So, what I always tell the patients is, you know, you're not going to get worse,” says Nunez. “You're either going to be in remission, sore or you're simply not going to respond.”