Ketamine for depression clinical issues

Adv Pharmacol. 2020;89:131-162. doi: 10.1016/bs.apha.2020.02.005. Epub 2020 Apr 1.


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a debilitating illness with significant morbidity and mortality, leading to attempted and completed suicides. It affects interpersonal relationships and also contributes to decreased productivity, causing financial burden to individuals and society. Patients often fail to respond to various antidepressant medication trials resulting in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Current antidepressant medications work by modulating the monoaminergic systems and takes several weeks to establish a clinical response. Ketamine has been used extensively as an anesthetic agent since the 1970s, and more recent research has shown its rapid and robust effectiveness in TRD the subject of this review. Ketamine is a racemic mixture comprised of two enantiomers (R)-ketamine and (S)-ketamine and acts as an NMDA receptor antagonist. Most research studies have explored its antidepressant and antisuicidal effects by using it as an intravenous infusion or via the intranasal route due to increased bioavailability. Recently an intranasal esketamine spray was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for TRD as an adjunct to standard antidepressant treatment in a supervised setting. Regarding its safety profile, multiple research studies have established the short-term safety and efficacy of ketamine in TRD. The cardiorespiratory and neuropsychiatric adverse events observed in these studies were mostly transient. However, ketamine is a scheduled agent with abuse potential, making its long-term use challenging and mandating further research.

Keywords: Antidepressant; ECT; Esketamine; Intramuscular; Intranasal spray; Ketamine; Oral dose; Randomized controlled trial; Subcutaneous dose; Suicide/self-harm; Treatment-resistant depression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage
  • Ketamine / adverse effects
  • Ketamine / metabolism
  • Ketamine / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Suicide


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Ketamine