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Doctors using club-drug Special K to cure depression instantly

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As anyone who has taken medication to treat depression surely knows, the beneficial effects of such drugs don't kick in right after you take your first dose — Prozac, for instance, can take weeks to do its job. (And some people still can't find a drug that works for them.) So what's a hospital or doctor supposed to do with a patient who comes in with severe, often suicidal depression? Keeping them in a locked in-patient center and waiting for the medication to work is one possibility, but it's hardly ideal. So some doctors in Houston are looking outside the box for a more immediate way to alleviate the problem — like, for instance, administering ketamine, also known as the club-drug Special K.

All-night rave in the psych ward, wooooooo, right? Not quite: this isn't your fall-into-a-K-hole-imagine-you're-standing-outside-your-own-body dose of ketamine. And the research into its use is in the early stages. But there seems to be some promise in using the drug to get people out of the immediate, sometimes-life threatening danger of extreme depression. In the experiment, people in such states were given IVs of either ketamine or a sedative. The patients don't know which they received yet — so, grain of salt time — but one participant is pretty sure she got the good stuff:

[Researcher Carlos] Zarate says patients typically say, " 'I feel that something's lifted or feel that I've never been depressed in my life. I feel I can work. I feel I can contribute to society.' And it was a different experience from feeling high. This was feeling that something has been removed."

I compare this to what [patient Heather] Merrill said about her experience: "No more fogginess. No more heaviness. I feel like I'm a clean slate right now. I want to go home and see friends or, you know, go to the grocery store and cook the family dinner."

Anyway, you probably shouldn't start pushing whatever pills you have leftover from a Friday night on your friend who "seems kind of down lately." But if the research pans out, hospitals could have a great new tool in their arsenal to protect patients with depression in those crucial first days. (And maybe become the new hot club in town. That would be one way to offset costs, right?)