Why you may have seen the latest depression drug at the club

The “tendrils” that extend from neurons are what facilitate synaptic connections in the brain. thelunch_box/Flickr

There’s a new anti-depression drug in the early stages of development, and patients using it could start to notice the effects within hours, rather than weeks or months like most anti-depression drugs. But ketamine has a rather sordid past; it’s a relatively common club drug which produces hallucinations and out-of-body experiences.

What ketamine does is increase the synaptic connections in your brain, which is how brain cells relay information to each other. These connections occur between neurons – brain cells with bits that reach out to each other, encouraging communication through those synapses. But in someone with depression, those neuronal extensions shrink and shrivel in the mood centers of their brain, making it harder for cells to communicate. Ketamine boosts the re-development of those brain cell tendrils.

Researchers also found that patients who don’t respond to traditional anti-depression drugs are seeing positive effects from ketamine.

The drug isn’t quite ready for the market. Scientists at Yale and the National Institute of Mental Health are still developing a form of it for mass consumption that has the neuronal benefits, but none of the drug tripping.

Once it’s approved, it will be the first anti-depression drug to make it to the market since Prozac, which was approved 25 years ago.

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