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Side Effects Mild, Brief with Single Dose of Ketamine

A man holding his head

NIH researchers found that a single, low-dose ketamine infusion was relatively free of side effects for patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Photo: STEVANOVICIGOR/ISTOCK

One of the most exciting recent breakthroughs from research funded by NIMH is the development of a fast-acting medication for treatment-resistant depression based on ketamine. This treatment is bringing new hope to people and families affected by major depression.

NIH researchers found that a single, low-dose ketamine infusion was relatively free of side effects for patients with treatment-resistant depression. Dr. Elia Acevedo-Diaz, Dr. Carlos Zarate and colleagues at NIMH report their findings in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Studies have shown that a single, subanesthetic-dose (a lower dose than would cause anesthesia) ketamine infusion can often rapidly relieve depressive symptoms within hours in people who have not responded to conventional antidepressants, which typically take weeks or months to work. However, widespread off-label use of intravenous subanesthetic-dose ketamine for treatment-resistant depression has raised concerns about side effects, especially given its history as a drug of abuse.

“The most common short-term side effect was feeling strange or loopy,” said Acevedo-Diaz. “Most side effects peaked within an hour of ketamine administration and were gone within 2 hours. We did not see any serious, drug-related adverse events or increased ketamine cravings with a single administration.”

To overcome the limitations associated with side effects and intravenous delivery, ongoing research efforts seek to develop a more practical rapid-acting antidepressant that works in the brain similarly to ketamine.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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