Special K’s incredible journey: The FDA approves ketamine to help fight depression

The FDA has finally approved a ketamine-derived antidepressant after years on the market as a surgery anesthetic.


March 7, 2019

As many as ¼ of the 16m American adults living with depression are known as treatment-resistant people — people with large natural tolerances.

But on Tuesday, the FDA added a potential fast-acting medicine to the list of happy pills with the approval of ketamine, an old and widely used surgery anesthetic that, according to Quartz, can help fight depression within hours (most meds take weeks to kick in).

‘Everyday is a winding road’ — Sheryl Crow

The drug was first developed and approved by the FDA to be used in surgeries in 1962, as a safer alternative to the anesthetic phencyclidine, AKA PCP.

Soon after, it became a party drug known as “Special K,” known to induce a dream-like state that causes hallucinations, numbness… ya’ know, party drug stuff.

Yet through it all, ketamine has been on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines since 1985. It wasn’t until the ’90s that it was thought to fight depression, and not until 2000 before researchers found ketamine provided quick relief to 7 depressed individuals.

There are some concerns

The antidepressant properties in ketamine are still relatively misunderstood, and several health professionals have voiced concerns about its effectiveness.

The newly approved treatment, called esketamine, is a nasal spray developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals (affiliate of Johnson & Johnson) that will be marketed as “Spravato.” 

The effectiveness of the previous class of antidepressants, like Prozac and Paxil, was wildly exaggerated when they first hit the market, and the results of esketamine trials, which were paid for by the Johnson & Johnson affiliate, have been mixed.

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