Trigger warning: This article discusses suicide.
For the past few years, there’s been growing certainty in the scientific community that psychedelics could be the next big thing in mental health treatment. Within the last month, plant-based psychedelics were predicted to be the next big thing in mental health treatment. And in the same month, the government blocked the use of mushrooms and MDMA for mental health treatment, citing concerns around lack of extensive clinical trials and potentially dangerous side effects.
The latest research, coming out of the University of the Sunshine Coast, found that oral doses of ketamine administered in a clinical setting can provide a rapid-acting treatment for chronic suicidality. It’s not the first Australian university to look into ketamine as a potential treatment — an article from news.com.au identified that the University of New South Wales was determining if the drug will work as a long-term therapy for depression and “improve anxiety, suicidal ideation and health-related quality of life”.
Although a common treatment for suicidality is antidepressants, they can have significant limitations for some patients — which is where ketamine comes in. It’s been shown to influence the firing of the brain, “turning uncoordinated and overactive brain networks into ordered and precise networks that function more effectively”.
And the results are pretty astounding. Within the first six weeks of treatment, 69% of participants achieved a clinical reduction in suicide ideation. Four weeks after treatment had ceased, half of the participants were still noting significant improvements.
Principale investigator, Dr Adem Can, says that the response rate is significant, “Particularly given it was experienced by patients with chronic suicidality, which can be difficult to treat.”
As for why they focused on an oral dose? “Logistically it’s a lot easier and faster to clinically administer an oral dose [in comparison to intravenous administration],” explained Dr Can.
The group of patients all had a variety of conditions — depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder — and the treatment worked across the group. Researchers saw this as an encouraging and exciting development, as the longer you have a particular condition, the more resistant it can become to treatment.
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.