Ketamine tablet aids in depression battle

Women taking pill in shadows. | Newsreel
Ketamine in tablet form aims to help people with depression. | Photo: Kieferpix (iStock)

A tablet form of the anaesthetic drug ketamine, being trialled in New Zealand, could be the key to addressing treatment-resistant depression.

Researchers at the University of Otago have found that ketamine delivered in an extended-release tablet could overcome the side-effects and high costs associated with current administration of the drug.

Professor Paul Glue said a study, published in Nature Medicine, involved 168 adults, for whom regular anti-depressant therapy repeatedly failed, taking a range of oral doses of ketamine or a placebo for 12 weeks.

Professor Glue said the highest dose of ketamine – 180mg – showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms, compared with patients who received placebo.

“Ketamine can be given by injection or nasal spray, but these methods can leave people feeling spaced out, sedated, and increases their blood pressure,” he said.

“This study shows the extended-release ketamine tablets are safe and effective, and overall, tolerability was good, with participants reporting minimal side effects.”

Professor Glue said many people around the world had treatment-resistant depression and had little chance of accessing ketamine.

“Because most doses of this tablet formulation can be taken at home, this is potentially a much cheaper and convenient option for these patients compared with weekly clinic visits for ketamine injections or nasal sprays.”

He said having the drug, which is used illegally as a recreational drug, in a tablet form reduced the risk of abuse as the manufacturing process made them difficult to manipulate.

Read the full study.