WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPVI) -- A study of 66 people shows a new form of a hospital anesthetic seems to help people suffering with the most serious form of depression.
It was a "proof of concept" trial.
Researchers found that giving a nasal spray version of intravenous ketamine dramatically improved depression symptoms, and cut thoughts of suicide in half.
The relief came within hours, and lasted.
Within 4 hours, the 35 people who received esketamine showed rapid improvement in both their depression symptoms and suicidal thoughts, scoring far better than those who received a placebo nasal spray.
29% had "common" or "explicit" suicidal thoughts, compared to 58% in the placebo group.
It's hoped that esketamine could bridge what's called the "efficacy gap," the time between symptoms and the time standard medications begin to have an effect.
Esketamine is probably not a long-term treatment, because it has side effects, such as causing hallucinations and feelings of being detached from surroundings.
5 of the 35 patients had to stop taking the drug because of side effects, like agitation, aggression, dizziness, and abnormal heart rhythms.
And while most patients got relief after each dose, their symptoms were less intense with each dose.
But now that this small study has succeeded, larger scale studies can be done.
Right now, there's no pill able to cure severe depression.
If esketamine wins FDA approval, a system would be needed to ensure it's used properly, because it can be addictive.