According to the World Health Organization’s website, approximately 280 million people in the world suffer from some form of depression – and the numbers aren’t projected to get any better.
With such a wide swathe of the global population suffering from this mental illness, the need for good, reliable treatments is pretty clear. But for many people, the pharmaceutical treatments currently available often fall short.
There’s broad agreement in the medical community that Ketamine holds promise to help with treatment-resistant depression. Depending on your age, you may remember it as a club drug (called “K” or “Special K”), though it was originally approved as an anesthetic for human use by the FDA to treat wounded US vets during the Vietnam war.
Most recently, emergency responders made the discovery that giving ketamine to an agitated patient after a suicide attempt sharply decreased suicidal ideation, often for an extended period.
This discovery has led to a surge in the drug’s popularity. In fact, at this point, Ketamine has become a sort of treatment du jour for depression – at least, for people who can afford it.
Clinics have popped up all over the country, charging anywhere from $400-$1000 per treatment (usually not covered by insurance). The proliferation of ketamine clinics has triggered its own concerns about inconsistent dosing and improper screening of patients, but we’ll put all that to one side for now.
The big downside of ketamine as an anti-depressant (as opposed to a club drug) is that it creates what doctors call a “dissociative experience.” These side effects can include visual and sensory distortions and even the feeling of being outside of one’s body. Another side effect is called “hyperlocomotion” which is pretty much what it sounds like – the inability to sit still.
So Ketamine has potentially powerful benefits but also some big drawbacks. But a new study shows that CBD may be able to help mitigate some of the psychoactivity of ketamine, without dampening its anti-depressant benefits.
It seems that both ketamine and CBD activate the same (AMPA) receptor in the brain, but going into the study there were many unknowns. According to the authors, “Given that CBD has antipsychotic and antidepressant properties, it is unknown whether adding CBD to ketamine could potentiate the antidepressant properties of ketamine while also attenuating its psychostimulant effects.”
The study, which was performed on Swiss mice, showed that the combination did, indeed, have an anti-depressant effect. (This was evaluated by something called the “forced swimming” test.)
But more importantly for the purposes of the study, the addition of CBD (at a dose of 10mg/kilo) seemed to significantly reduce psychostimulant effects like hyper-locomotion.
Clearly, this is an early study that will need to be replicated in other animals and, of course, in humans, before it can be used as a clinical treatment – so researchers aren’t celebrating yet.
But the results are promising enough to guarantee further research. According to the authors: “By preventing the hyperlocomotion without interfering with the antidepressant effects of ketamine, CBD could be explored as a possible new add-on therapeutic option for depression.”