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Sharp Health News

Can ‘Special K’ treat depression?

June 30, 2017

Ketamine therapy for depression

Many people know ketamine by its street name, “Special K,” though it is commonly used as an anesthetic in hospitals and veterinary centers.

New research at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital is aimed at determining the safety and efficacy of a new inhaled version of ketamine as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression. Dr. Michael Plopper leads a team of researchers at the hospital who are investigating the drug as part of an FDA-sponsored clinical trial.

“In recent years, there’s been some evidence of significant short-term improvement in depression symptoms and suicidal thinking with ketamine therapy,” says Dr. Plopper. “This current study is for patients whose symptoms haven’t responded well to traditional treatments.” Traditional treatments for depression include cognitive therapy and oral antidepressants.

Researchers believe ketamine works on certain chemicals in the brain that transmit signals between neurons, likely in a manner different from existing antidepressants. It also appears that ketamine works more quickly than current therapies, potentially offering faster relief for patients.

The researchers are trying to determine how well the drug works to control symptoms, how long the results last and what side effects may exist. The study is double-blind, meaning neither the researchers nor the patients know which participants are getting the medication and which are getting a placebo — a substance that has no physical effects, used for testing purposes. At the end of the clinical trial, researchers will compare the results from the two groups to determine the effectiveness of ketamine treatment.

“These are people who are really struggling, Dr. Plopper says. “This is possibly one of the best advances in depression treatment we’ve seen in decades. It holds real promise for our patients.”

Learn more about clinical trials for behavioral health at Sharp Mesa Vista.

For the media: To speak with Dr. Plopper about the ketamine therapy clinical trial or other mental health topics, contact Senior Public Relations Specialist Erica Carlson at

This story was updated June 2017.

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