Objective: To review the published literature on the efficacy of ketamine for the treatment of suicidal ideation (SI).
Methods: The PubMed and Cochrane databases were searched up to January 2015 for clinical trials and case reports describing therapeutic ketamine administration to patients presenting with SI/suicidality. Searches were also conducted for relevant background material regarding the pharmacological function of ketamine.
Results: Nine publications (six studies and three case reports) met the search criteria for assessing SI after administration of subanesthetic ketamine. There were no studies examining the effect on suicide attempts or death by suicide. Each study demonstrated a rapid and clinically significant reduction in SI, with results similar to previously described data on ketamine and treatment-resistant depression. A total of 137 patients with SI have been reported in the literature as receiving therapeutic ketamine. Seven studies delivered a dose of 0.5 mg/kg intravenously over 40 min, while one study administered a 0.2 mg/kg intravenous bolus and another study administered a liquid suspension. The earliest significant results were seen after 40 min, and the longest results were observed up to 10 days postinfusion.
Conclusion: Consistent with clinical research on ketamine as a rapid and effective treatment for depression, ketamine has shown early preliminary evidence of a reduction in depressive symptoms, as well as reducing SI, with minimal short-term side effects. Additional studies are needed to further investigate its mechanism of action, long-term outcomes, and long-term adverse effects (including abuse) and benefits. In addition, ketamine could potentially be used as a prototype for further development of rapid-acting antisuicidal medication with a practical route of administration and the most favorable risk/benefit ratio.