Ketamine Could Reduce PTSD For Soldiers In Combat, Study Suggests

By McCarton Ackerman 02/16/17

Ketamine is also being examined as a potential treatment for depression and alcoholism. 

US soldiers

Although it may seem counterintuitive, a new study suggests that giving soldiers a dose of the Schedule III drug, ketamine, before going into combat could have certain benefits.

The findings, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in January, come from researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Lab rats were injected with either ketamine or a placebo for either one month, one week or one hour before they were subjected to a series of small shocks. Afterwards, the rats were returned to the same environment where they received the shocks, and their fear response (referred to as "freezing" behavior) was measured.

The scientists noted that only the rats that were given ketamine one week before the shocks showed reduced freezing behavior when they returned to the same environment. Because there are few effective treatments or therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), these findings could have groundbreaking implications.

"Ketamine is a powerful drug, and we wouldn't advocate widespread use for preventing or reducing PTSD symptoms,” said Christine Denny, PhD, assistant professor of clinical neurobiology in psychiatry at Columbia University. "But if our results in mice translate to humans, giving a single dose of ketamine in a vaccine-like fashion could have great benefit for people who are highly likely to experience significant stressors, such as members of the military or aid workers going into conflict zones."

Denny’s team is now analyzing exactly how ketamine works in the brain to reduce both stress and PTSD symptoms. They also want to study other possible windows of time where administering ketamine can be helpful in reducing PTSD symptoms.

Other studies have also linked ketamine as a possible aid in reducing PTSD symptoms. A research project published in the April 2014 issue of JAMA Psychiatry analyzed 41 patients with chronic PTSD and symptoms of depression related to it. Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City found that intravenous administration of ketamine provided an immediate reduction in PTSD symptom severity.

But while lead study author Adriana Feder, MD, was encouraged by the findings, she noted that “this should be viewed as a proof of concept study. Additionally, longer term clinical trials with ketamine will be required to determine if ketamine will be a clinically useful treatment for PTSD."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.