Feb. 27, 2015 — There may be hope for hard-to-treat depression as scientists explore novel ways to help people who have the often crippling condition.
Recently, a number of studies have suggested the benefits of Botox, ketamine, and certain sometimes-unexpected means of treating depression.
“I’m excited in general, and I’m curious,” says Peter D. Kramer, MD, author of Listening to Prozac and Against Depression.
Each year, around 16 million U.S. adults battle major depression. Many of them benefit from antidepressants. But as many as a third get depressive symptoms despite medication. And side effects, which can include weight gain, nausea, and insomnia, are troublesome for some patients. That leaves many people with depression searching for alternatives.
But if Kramer is hopeful about the newer, novel ways to treat the condition, he’s also cautious. The studies backing those treatments aren’t conclusive, and none of the approaches have been approved by the FDA to treat depression (though some, such as ketamine, have been approved for other uses).
“Things are merely hopeful until they are demonstrated [safe and effective],” Kramer says. “It’s always hard to tell what’s going on, but it’s a very interesting time, and I think some of them will come through.”
Here’s a closer look at what might be used to help treat depression in years to come.
Ketamine. Already in use in certain clinics and in some emergency departments around the country, ketamine is an anesthetic most often used during surgery. It’s given through an IV, and it quickly eases symptoms of depression, often in a matter of hours. The benefit is temporary, though.
One recent study found it to be very good at helping curb suicidal thoughts in severely depressed people. But it’s expensive, still experimental as a depression treatment, and can cause hallucinations and other side effects.
“Some people are very uncomfortable with the side effects,” says Alan Manevitz, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in treatment-resistant depression at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. This is an anesthetic commonly used by dentists. A small study published last December reports that nitrous oxide improved depression symptoms within less than 2.5 hours.