Depression is one of the most commonly encountered psychiatric disorders and one of the leading causes of illness worldwide.

Globally, depression affects more than 350 million people for all ages, according to the World Health Organization, which is a reason the announcement of the use of ketamine as potential treatment is providing some promise for individuals who suffer from chronic depression. Ketamine is typically recognized as a surgical anesthetic or party drug.

The use of it as a potential agent for depression can be identified as far back as 2012, when an article evaluated ketamine’s ability to quickly reduce depressive symptoms in patients that had not achieved success with other drugs on the market.

The therapeutic options used for the management of depression have remained about the same for the last 40 years, and the arrival of new research to support ketamine as a potential treatment option brings hope to both clinicians and the patients that they currently treat for depression.

The process of trial and error before finding a medication that works to manage symptoms is what many depression patients can contend with at times. The uniqueness of ketamine comes from its mechanism of action, which is different from other anti-depression agents in that it focuses on NMDA receptors and mood regulation.

While ketamine is demonstrating these benefits, there are some unpleasant side effects (e.g., dizziness or blurred vision), with the most notable being an out-of-body experience in some individuals. Given this potential effect, clinicians and researchers strive to take caution when it comes to the use of ketamine. More information about these effects will come from long-term studies.

The first drug company to serve as trailblazer for the use of ketamine as a potential therapeutic option for depression is Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Soon, other companies such as Allergen may follow suit. Additionally, VistaGen has sought to explore other agents that have comparable mechanisms and properties similar to ketamine.

The development of a nasal spray formulation of ketamine by J&J, called esketamine, demonstrated promising results, with participants displaying improvement in depressive symptoms when compared to the use of placebo.

Johnson and Johnson hopes to be able to submit the spray to the Food and Drug Administration for approval later in the year. With increasing exploration into the use of ketamine, the scientific community is learning more and more about how depression changes the human brain and how novel drugs can potentially provide relief for individuals that have been suffering symptoms for some time.