For the last few decades, ketamine has found a wide range of clinical applications in anesthesia, pain and critical care. At the same time, over the years, it has also gained notoriety as a recreational drug commonly referred to as “special K” on the party circuit. According to the researchers, ketamine is a harmful and addictive drug and, if abused or used for prolonged periods, can cause adverse consequences such as memory problems, bladder pain syndrome and psychosis. Despite potential long-term side effects, the drug has been hailed as “the most important breakthrough in antidepressant treatment in decades” due to its potent and rapid action.
Following the success of ketamine therapy in adult patients, there has been a surge in clinical trials exploring the drug’s effect on adolescent depression. Despite physicians’ reluctance to test the drug on adolescents, the need for such trials has emanated due to lack of effective treatment options for youngsters with acute and debilitating mental illnesses. Besides depression, clinical trials are currently underway to treat the vulnerable population with other conditions such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Ketamine has shown remarkable effects in treating major depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and suicidal tendencies. The potential of ketamine treatment for teens has significant outcomes. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among American teens. The condition of nearly 40 percent depressed teens does not improve with initial treatment using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other medication. Combined medication and psychotherapy has also shown limited impact. Antidepressants may take weeks to show results whereas ketamine starts working in a few hours.
Limited knowledge about side-effects
Despite the praise being showered on the miracle drug, concerns are also being expressed regarding its regular use. So far it has been administered as a one-time vaccine for anesthesia. In case of depression, however, ketamine treatment is open-ended; the drug may sometimes be required to administer intravenously multiple times. Experts are unsure about the risks involved due to repeated use. Past research shows a high prevalence of abuse — chronic ketamine exposure in juvenile mice was found to have impaired a wide range of brain functions during follow-up assessments in adulthood.
There are apprehensions that irresponsible actions of doctors and pharmacies may foster a new culture of drug addiction among adolescents. Dubious clinics are offering patients unapproved take-home ketamine kits for administering at home. Pharmacies are also selling ketamine candies and nasal sprays specifically targeted at youngsters. Such rampant availability of ketamine in the hands of children may result in serious side-effects such as laryngospasm – sudden vocal cord spasms which inhibit breathing and can be life-threatening – besides other adverse outcomes including cognitive impairment.
Researchers associated with ketamine clinical trial strongly feel that the drug should be administered only under strict medical supervision and with appropriate monitoring. Michael Howard Bloch, associate professor in the child study center at Yale School of Medicine and lead researcher of numerous controlled ketamine trials for adolescents, indicates that the drug is used very selectively in the case of patients with serious and treatment-resistant mental health issues. Even in such cases, the drug is administered in a clinical trial setting with continuous monitoring for side-effects. Bloch compares the potential risks of ketamine against the risk of suicide in deciding if such treatment should be offered to adolescents.
Helping adolescent boys with mental illness
In the U.S., the onset of most mental illnesses takes place before the age of 24. Although mental disorders do not discriminate and can strike anyone at any time, young men are less likely to seek help than women. The stigma associated with mental illnesses act as a deterrent to effective treatment. Parents should be watchful of their teens’ behavior and seek a psychiatrist’s help immediately in case of any doubt.
If you know a teenage boy who is displaying signs of mental illness, White River Academy can help. Located in Utah, it is one of the leading therapeutic boarding schools that offer teenage depression treatment. Call our 24/7 helpline number to know about our treatment for teens with depression or chat online with one of our representatives to know more.