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06/13/2014 11:10 EDT | Updated 06/13/2014 11:59 EDT

'Special K' Drug Could Be Used To Help Severe Depression

Party drug 'Special K' could resolve treatment-resistant depression

Research at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center indicates ketamine is a fast-acting anti-depressant capable of treating even the most severe, drug-resistant cases.

In the medical field, ketamine is commonly used as a sedative and painkiller. In Britain, it is also used to tranquilize unruly horses.

Known as "Special K" among illicit users, it is widely used for recreational purposes.

Due to the potential for abuse, research is underway to create a less severe form of the drug for depression treatment.

Despite the limitations to ketamine's potential, the Texas researchers know they are on the right track because the drug works better than memantine, a treatment for Alzheimer's that scientists had been testing as a treatment for severe depression.

"Although both ketamine and memantine have similar actions when nerve cells are active, under resting conditions, memantine is less effective in blocking nerve cell communication compared to ketamine. This fundamental difference in their action could explain why memantine has not been effective as a rapid antidepressant," said Dr. Lisa Monteggia, a professor of neuroscience.

Oxford University researchers conducted a similar study on ketamine that also indicates the drug has potential as a rapid acting treatment for drug resistant, severe depression. That study was published April 3 of this year in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Ketamine is a frequent subject of drug studies in all its varying uses. A study published in January praised katamine's ability to combat pain, yet recommended close monitoring of patients due to its potential for abuse.

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