Intranasal Ketamine in Major Depressive Disorder


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Physicians at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, studied intranasal ketamine in 18 patients with Major Depressive Disorder, published in 2014:

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A Randomized Controlled Trial of

Intranasal Ketamine in Major Depressive Disorder

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Conclusions

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“This study provides the first controlled evidence for the rapid antidepressant effects of intranasal ketamine. Treatment was associated with minimal adverse effects. If replicated, these findings may lead to novel approaches to the pharmacologic treatment of patients with major depression.”

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I have previously posted more detail on this study. They report a significant antidepressant effect occurred as early as 40 minutes in some. I have seen some respond in seconds. But the dose is unique and specific to each person and there is no response until that dose is reached.

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It is hoped that more studies will be funded, though that seems unlikely since congress slashed the NIH budget in 2010 by the unthinkable 30%, never done in history.

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Entire generations of scientists are now lost forever.

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Ketamine Safety

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Ketamine is one of the safest medications I have prescribed in 40 years of medicine. And I meticulously obtain laboratory studies at least twice a year to verify any potential harm as it has been reported in addicts that it may affect bladder, kidney, liver or biliary system. I first prescribed ketamine about 14 years ago for intractable pain rated 10 on a scale of 10 for 30 years; and prescribed ketamine since Spring 2012 for Major Depression. For years I searched to find a spray with a metered dosing system. Thus since late 2011, intranasal has been the delivery I find most useful. When given as nasal spray or under the tongue, not swallowed, it goes straight to the bloodstream, bypassing the liver, and works for depression because the liver does not convert it to a different metabolite.

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Nevertheless, it is important to stress that ketamine must be monitored for any possible adverse effects including toxicity and/or addiction. I require long distance patients to be followed by a psychiatrist or psychologist regularly while on ketamine. So far, my returning patients have been stable for years.

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Further, when given by the nasal or sublingual route, I do not see the side effects that my anesthesiology colleagues see after I.V. infusion. I’ve been in board meetings with some of the finest anesthsiology pain specialists in the country sharing and comparing experience. I don’t see those complications. But that is what is published and I.V. is how it is given in the few centers where ketamine is used for treatment of Major Depression or Bipolar Depression.

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Ketamine is a short acting medication whether it is given I.V. or nasally or under the tongue. But it is quite bitter and most prefer nasal delivery.  Review the case study of the professional who traveled out of state once or twice weekly for one year to receive I.V. ketamine. She had failed ECT 9 or 10 times – memory loss was so bad she got lost in her own neighborhood. She now does very well on a small dose every 48 hours given nasally. In the same post, I reported the patient with Juvenile Bipolar Disorder, Fear of Harm phenotype whose profound thermoregulatory abnormalities respond in seconds to ketamine, with a very small dose of 10 mg nasal spray every 3 days. That’s it! Temperature responds in seconds, and the depression responds in 10 minutes in her case.

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Unfortunately research protocols require the study of fixed dosages in order to be a cost effective study for one sample size at one dose to be even slightly meaningful, even then 18 patients studied at Mt. Sinai is a small study at the one dose they used.

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The principle that I have always used is “start low, go slow.” That allows for the discovery that some large men may require the tiniest dose and some tiny 90 pound seniors may require some of the largest doses I’ve seen. It cannot be predicted by body weight. Anesthesiologists generally think in terms of mg/kg body weight, for example the 0.5 mg/kg I.V. generally used for depression. But ketamine’s dosage variance is unrelated to weight. That likely explains why some develop frightening symptoms when given IV, and others do not respond. One size does not fit all. That method either under-doses or overdoses.

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There are case reports on this website giving examples of some individuals I have seen with Major Depressive Disorder. One man is unusual in needing a small dose only every 6 to 8 weeks, but most use the nasal spray daily or every second or third day. I suspect that after initially starting ketamine on a daily basis for one or two weeks, the frequency of dosing may be lowered to every two or three days. Less is more.

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Professor David Feifel at UCSD guesstimates that ketamine helps 70% of persons with Major Depression. I think that’s a fair statement given that we are unlikely even to see the unknown number who remain at home, forever feeling they are unable to leave their confinement. We know that effects of ketamine are blocked in mice that are deficient in BDNF. We may speculate that when ketamine fails in persons with Major Depression, that may be due to lack of BDNF. We know exercise helps Major Depression and exercise increases BDNF. Much more research is needed.

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The use of ketamine is essentially a first line drug for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). That may never be said in publications, but that has been the case for years in persons with CRPS who have failed all other medications. I specialize in CRPS, a form of neuropathic pain that leads to suicide more often than any other pain syndrome.

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For pain, intranasal ketamine is far shorter lasting, typically three hours, rarely six. And requires doses far higher than for Major Depression or Bipolar Depression. Even then, when used for pain six times daily in very high doses, it has proven to be profoundly safe with few if any side effects that last less than half an hour, if present at all.

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Inflammation

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The role of inflammation and glia in the pathogenesis of depression has been well established since 2000, and discussed here. The study of ketamine has taken on new life with the discovery that it profoundly lowers pro-inflammatory cytokines produced by microglia. Inflammatory cytokines have been shown to be elevated in chronic pain and in Major Depression. That is why I feel it is important to prescribe adjuncts that also lower inflammatory cytokines. And patients with Major Depression and Bipolar Depression have reported the adjuncts make ketamine stronger and last longer. Some don’t even need ketamine after awhile, but remain on the adjuncts.

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Ketamine is not a cure and I find it is best used with adjunct medication. In my experience, ketamine and adjunct medications are likely to help as long as prior to treatment, patients are still able to function, to work at least somewhat. I do have 4 patients in the last four years who have not left their home or their bed for many years, and they failed to respond. Sadly, one older woman had to be institutionalized for life, her melancholic depression was so deep. When ketamine is even partially effective, I have patients who had been too fatigued to work before treatment, yet who are able to return to graduate school for a PhD and do well for years on a stable dose. It is immensely rewarding to be a part of this unique therapy, to see them regain life and function after years of misery and disability.

 

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Studies

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S-Ketamine

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It is my hope to be able to compare S-ketamine, that is not yet FDA approved, with the racemic* ketamine that we now have, that was FDA approved in 1970 in high dose as an anesthetic. Obviously we do not use high anesthetic doses for control of pain or Major Depression. I understand unfortunately that when clinical studies are completed, S-ketamine will be available only in emergency departments.

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*Racemic means the molecule has equal amounts of left and right-handed enantiomers (mirror images) of a chiral molecule (meaning, you cannot superimpose the left hand with the right hand. They mirror but do not superimpose). Thus both left and right racemic ketamine mixture has been FDA approved, but the S-ketamine, the left sided molecule is considered a different drug, and must be FDA approved.

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Without FDA approval, ketamine can be studied with FDA permission that provides an Investigational New Drug (IND) application.

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Given the lack of funding for almost any research in this country, I would consider doing a patient-funded study if patients showed interest. It would be modeled on the intranasal study published in the Mt. Sinai study, above, i.e. short term, randomized, double blind, placebo controlled.

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It is reported that S-ketamine may be more effective with fewer side effects. This must be proven and cannot be taken at face value without several studies. Shockingly, some publications in recent years have been fabricated and woven into mythology.

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Finally, ketamine is off-label for pain and for major depression.

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Papolos et al have published Clinical experience using intranasal ketamine in the treatment of pediatric bipolar disorder/fear of harm phenotype

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“Ketamine administration was associated with a substantial reduction in measures of mania, fear of harm and aggression. Significant improvement was observed in mood, anxiety and behavioral symptoms, attention/executive functions, insomnia, parasomnias and sleep inertia. Treatment was generally well-tolerated.”

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PUBLIC WARNING

reprinted with permission of Demitri Papolos, MD
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Ketamine is a controlled substance.
Administered improperly, or without the guidance of a qualified doctor,
Ketamine may cause injury or death.
No attempt should be made to use Ketamine
in the absence of counsel from a qualified doctor.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.
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It is not legal for me to provide medical advice without an examination.

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It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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If you wish an appointment, please telephone the office to schedule.

 

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