21 Aug 2015

Party drug could lead to new depression treatment

11:23 am on 21 August 2015

An Auckland scientist has discovered how a drug known on the street as Special K could help lead to fast new treatments for depression.

no caption

Photo: 123RF

Auckland University's Suresh Muthukumaraswarmy has used the latest imaging techniques to find how ketamine affects the brain.

The drug is a sedative that has been used on large animals, but also on human patients. It first gained notoriety as a recreational drug in the United States in the 1970s, before spreading to other countries.

Dr Muthukumaraswarmy said ketamine had done well in clinical trials, but was considered problematic because using it in this way was still at a very experimental stage. There were also issues over the fact it was an abused drug and was mildly hallucinogenic.

"We gave ketamine to healthy volunteers and we scanned their brains and we found a particular circuit that it changed, that we think could be what you need to change in depression to generate an anti-depressant response to a compound."

Dr Muthukumaraswarmy said knowing how the drug acted on the brain meant they could look at developing other fast-acting medications for treating depression.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs