A US study has revealed that a drug, ketamine, could be used in the treatment of major depression and suicidal thoughts.
Ketamine has a reputation as a party drug but is licenced as an anaesthetic.
The study found use of the drug via a nasal spray led to “significant” improvements in depressive symptoms in the first 24 hours.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said it was a “significant” study that brought the drug “a step closer to being prescribed on the NHS”.
The report by researchers from Janssen Research and Development, a Johnson and Johnson company, and Yale School of Medicine, is the first study into ketamine as a treatment for depression that has been done by a drug company.
It is being published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
The trial looked at 68 people at imminent risk of suicide.
All patients were treated with a stay in hospital and anti-depressants.
In addition, half were given ketamine in the form of esketamine (part of the ketamine molecule) in a nasal spray and half were given a placebo.
The study found those using esketamine had a much greater improvement in depression symptoms at all points over the first four weeks of treatment.
However, at 25 days the effects had levelled out.
The study’s authors suggest it could offer an effective rapid treatment for people severely depressed and at imminent risk of suicide and could help in the initial stages of treatment, as most anti-depressants take four to six weeks to become fully effective.
The nasal spray is now undergoing phase three trials before it can be licensed for treatment.