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Ketamine treatment for depression gaining popularity in US

Ketamine treatment for depression gaining popularity in US
Ketamine treatment for depression gaining popularity in US 02:41

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - Doctors across the country are turning to widely-known anesthetic and party drug ketamine to treat patients with severe depression.  

Ketamine was approved as a general anesthetic in 1970 by the FDA. 

It also has a local connection. It was developed by a Detroit-based drug company, and the first human use of the drug was at the University of Michigan Hospital in 1965. 

Experts said the substance can have a significant impact on those living with mental disorders when given in a controlled setting.  

 "I've seen sometimes people who have severe depression – the depression literally is gone within 20 minutes," said psychiatrist Norman Alessi. "The experience of their bodies being anesthetized. So consequently, they're not feeling their bodies, and they're not feeling the depression in their bodies." 

Alessi owns Alessi Psychiatry and Life Center on Ann Arbor's west side. He has worked for four decades in the field of psychopharmacology and travels the country to learn about the latest treatments. 

He said he's seen ketamine have profound effects on patients who had no success with traditional treatments. 

Alessi offers ketamine treatments as IV infusions and sublingual tablets to those suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, treatment-resistant anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  

"Not everybody has a positive response," he said, sharing it has worked for roughly 50% of his patients. "And, for some people, believe me, that's extremely frustrating because this can cost a lot of money out of pocket." 

In the U.S., treatment sessions can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and that figure can rise when psychotherapy is paired with infusions. 

Sagar Parikh is the head of the Depression Clinical and Research program at the University of Michigan. He also leads Michigan Medicine's ketamine services. 

While he sees it as an effective treatment for depression, he said there are risks involved. 

"Because it's an old drug, it's actually not very regulated," said Parikh. "For instance, any physician can prescribe it for any reason. There are risks involved with both IV and intranasal ketamine, the two main ways that it's given. And these risks include matching the wrong patient to the treatment. Right now \, the research only supports giving people with serious clinical depression IV or intranasal ketamine." 

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