Getting the Inside Dope on Ketamine’s Mysterious Ability to Rapidly Relieve Depression

The notorious party drug may act as an antidepressant by blocking neural bursts in a little-understood brain region that may drive depression

Ketamine has been called the biggest thing to happen to psychiatry in 50 years, due to its uniquely rapid and sustained antidepressant effects. It improves symptoms in as little as 30 minutes, compared with weeks or even months for existing antidepressants, and is effective even for the roughly one third of patients with so-called treatment-resistant depression

Although there are multiple theories, researchers do not quite know how ketamine combats depression. Now, new research has uncovered a mechanism that may, in part, explain ketamine's antidepressant properties. Two studies, recently published in Nature, describe a distinctive pattern of neural activity that may drive depression in a region called the lateral habenula (LHb); Ketamine, in turn, blocks this activity in depression-prone rats.

Read more in Simon Makin's story in Scientific American.