Psychedelic drugs have been touted as potential cures for otherwise untreatable mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and even addiction. Recent research suggests that the rave drug Ketamine, also known as Special K, could be an effective treatment for serious depression and bipolar disorder, especially when other drugs have failed.
"It blew the doors off what we thought we knew about depression treatment," said psychiatrist James Murrough of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York in an interview with Nature.
Now, pharmaceutical companies are racing to cash in on the drug. Nature's Sarah Reardon reports:
A nasal spray containing a structural variant called esketamine earned a coveted 'breakthrough therapy designation' from the US Food and Drug Administration in 2013. The designation allows its manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to fast-track esketamine through the regulatory process. The company plans to release the results of a 200-person study early this year; its head neuroscience researcher, Husseini Manj, says that initial results "look very good."
Last month, a company called Naurex, based in Evanston, Illinois, released results from a 386-person trial showing that its own ketamine-like drug, GLYX-13, successfully treated depression in about half of patients, without hallucinatory side effects. Roche of Basel, Switzerland, is also expected to release results early this year from a 357-person trial of a drug called decoglurant, which targets the glutamate pathway.
As for the psychedelic effects? Many doctors are not concerned. Dr. David Feifel, a psychiatry professor at University of California, San Diego said in an interview with the New York Times, "More often than not, they really like it."