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Rothschild to New York Times: More research needed on ketamine as treatment for depression

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

December 10, 2014

While UMass Medical School psychiatrist Anthony Rothschild, MD, acknowledges that there is an urgent need for new antidepressant medications for patients who do not respond to those currently available, he is cautious about the rising use of ketamine as a treatment for depression, as he told the New York Times for a Dec. 19 feature on the powerful anesthetic with hallucinogenic properties that is now being studied as a promising but controversial treatment. 

“We don’t know what the long-term side effects of this are,” said Dr. Rothschild, the Irving S. and Betty Brudnick Chair in Psychiatry, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Psychopharmacologic Research and Treatment at UMMS. A pioneer in depression treatment and psychopharmacology, Rothschild is currently conducting research on treatments for moderate to severe unipolar depression, psychotic depression and treatment-resistant depression.

FDA-approved decades ago for use as a short acting anesthetic in hospitals, and used illicitly as a club drug with the street name Special K, ketamine is increasingly being prescribed by doctors as an off-label treatment for depression that does not respond to other antidepressants. The NYT article “Special K, a Hallucinogen, Raises Hopes and Concerns as a Treatment for Depression” coincides with the release of new research findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.