Will We See Ketamine Related Antidepressants In The Near Future?
There has always been dissatisfaction among doctors and patients with anti-depressants. They often take 4-6 weeks to work, have significant side effects, and when they are helpful, relief it is often partial. A significant percentage of depressed patients find that anti-depressants provide no relief at all. Recent research suggests that anti-depressants work not so much by changing the balance of neurotransmitters but by increasing the number of synapses, the connections between nerve cells. In fact, there is reduced size in brain regions that regulate cognition and mood. These are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus.
As reported in this month’s Journal Science, ketamine can produce a stunningly rapid response, within hours, in patients resistant to standard antidepressants. Ketamine rapidly increases synaptic connections. This reverses the synaptic deficits caused by chronic stress/anxiety. Ketamine has been used in medicine primarily as a general anesthetic.
While initial research was done with rat brains, there is a recent clinical study of 30 depressed patients who received ketamine. The researchers found changes in brainwave activity that suggested strengthened connections between neurons. This potentially opens what may be a whole new direction for ketamine related antidepressant medication.
The LENS Neurofeedback Ketamine Connection
There is an additional reason these findings are particularly interesting to me as a LENS neurofeedback practitioner. When treating depression it is common for us to see (temporary) reversal of depression within minutes. LENS neurofeedback is unlikely to increase synaptic growth in such a short period of time. We think that LENS works by getting the brain out of frozen, stuck patterns. This allows the brain to use pre-existing healthy patterns that were no longer functionally available. In this theory, LENS would not be causing the growth of new synapses as much as removing the “blockage” of already existing neural connections. The two mechanisms might be functionally very similar—they both promote increased neuro-connectivity. Naturally this is highly speculative, but it suggests an area that researchers studying LENS might look at in the future. Regardless, ketamine might finally provide relief for so many who have not been able to find it elsewhere.