A nasal spray based on the hallucinogenic drug ketamine has been approved for use in the US to treat people with severe depression.
Esketamine has been described as the ‘chemical cousin’ of the drug, and will be administered as a nasal spray to those who need it.
Unlike regular antidepressants, which can take days to take effect, the breakthrough treatment has been shown to relieve depressive symptoms within hours.
Esketamine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this week, the Independent reports, after trials showed how quick and efficient the nasal spray is in treating depression.
Dr John Mann, a psychiatrist and researcher at Columbia University, said:
[That speed] is a huge thing because depressed patients are very disabled and suffer enormously.
The drug has been developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. and will be marketed under the name Spravato. It works by targeting receptors in the brain and promoting new connections between brain cells.
The treatment will only be offered to patients who have tried at least two other treatments without success, and will be administered either once or twice a week – depending on the severity of the person’s depression.
As reported by CNN, the nasal spray is administered by an approved health care provider in a doctor’s office or medical clinic. It can be self-administered but only under the supervision of a care provider, and never at home.
Tiffany Farchione, acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products at the FDA, said:
Because of [safety] concerns, the drug will only be available through a restricted distribution system and it must be administered in a certified medical office where the health care provider can monitor the patient.
— FDA Drug Information (@FDA_Drug_Info) March 6, 2019
Because the esketamine molecule is three times as potent as the ketamine molecule, some groups have warned there is a potential for abuse as the drug could bring opioid-like addiction risks.
As reported by the Independent last year – when the nasal spray was at the trial stage – researchers at Stanford University found the drug affects the brain in the same way as opioid medications.
However, in an attempt to avoid such risks, Spravato will be administered under medical supervision during treatment and for two hours afterwards.
Robin Prothro, 60, has been on antidepressants for more than 20 years; she took part in the clinical trial as the five previous medications she had tried had not been effective.
You can feel it coming on, it’s a strong drug. I just let the drug work. I close my eyes and my mind is amazingly quiet.
A spokesperson for Janssen confirmed to CNN the company were ‘working quickly’ to ensure patients will soon be able to access Sprovato. As of yet, there is no confirmed date for when it will be available.
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