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It’s no secret that depression is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in life. It is a complex condition that can be caused by various factors, including genetics, biology, environment, and lifestyle.

Although there are various treatments for depression, including medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes, they can take weeks or months to show improvement, and not all patients respond to them.

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that has been used for decades in surgery. In recent years, it has gained attention for its rapid and robust antidepressant effects, even in people with treatment-resistant depression.

Unlike conventional antidepressants, which can take weeks to work, ketamine can improve mood within hours of administration. However, the effects can be short-lived, lasting only a few days or weeks. Moreover, ketamine is not approved for depression treatment by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is not covered by most insurance plans, making it prohibitively expensive for many patients.

But one healthcare professional may have discovered a way to extend the benefits of ketamine infusion therapy. Rebecca Price, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, led a study aimed at extending the antidepressant effects of ketamine.

The study involved 154 people with major depressive disorder who received a single infusion of ketamine. After the infusion, half of the participants played a computer game designed to enhance self-esteem, while the other half played a control game that did not have any positive messages.

The self-esteem game involved several exercises, including one where participants had to press a button whenever they saw the letter “I” on the screen. Every time they pressed the button, they were shown a positive adjective related to self-esteem, such as “worthy,” “lovable,” and “good.” The other game involved a simple memory task where participants had to remember the order in which objects appeared on the screen.

The results of the study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, showed that the group that played the self-esteem game had a more extended antidepressant response to ketamine than the control group. Specifically, 63% of the self-esteem group had not relapsed into depression at three months, compared to 46% of the control group. In contrast, the effects of ketamine alone tended to wane after a week or two, with only 34% of participants remaining free of depression after three months.

The study’s findings suggest that the computer game designed to boost self-esteem helped to reinforce positive associations in the brain, which may have contributed to the prolonged antidepressant effects of ketamine. The authors believe that the game’s effects were due to the so-called “plasticity window” that ketamine induces in the brain. During this period, the brain is more receptive to learning and change, which can enhance the effects of psychotherapy or other interventions.

The study’s results have important implications for the treatment of depression, particularly for patients who have not responded to conventional treatments or cannot afford expensive medications. The combination of ketamine and a self-esteem game could be a cost-effective and accessible way to treat depression, even in areas with limited mental health resources. However, the study has some limitations, including its small sample size, the lack of a placebo group, and the use of a single infusion of ketamine. Future studies with larger samples, more extended follow-up periods, and control groups are needed to confirm the findings and assess the intervention’s safety and efficacy.

Despite its limitations, the study’s results are promising and suggest that innovative approaches to treating depression can lead to better outcomes for patients. Depression is a complex and challenging condition that requires a multifaceted approach to treatment. While ketamine is not a cure for depression, it can provide a temporary respite from the symptoms, allowing patients to engage in therapy.

Read more about this study designed to prolong the effects of ketamine therapy.