Researchers have published a study in the open-access journal Nature Communications which examines how ketamine can be used to help patients who suffer from conditions that are on the obsessive compulsive disorder spectrum.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a name that refers to disorders drawn from several diagnostic categories that share features such as obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviours and anxiety. Some of the categories that make up the OCD spectrum include patients that obsess over their body, i.e eating disorders, or patients who struggle with impulse control, which can manifest as substance abuse and alcoholism. OCD patients from across the spectrum exhibit similar characteristics and clinical outcomes.
The cause of OCD is linked with dysfunction in frontostriatal circuits – the neural pathways in which signals are sent from the frontal lobe region of the brain to the striatum, mediating motor, cognitive and behavioural functions. The results of the study show how ketamine increases activity in these areas of the brain in mice that had been subject to gene-targeting, which in turn led to a decrease in the obsessive grooming behaviour in the mice.
Promising human studies involving low doses of ketamine have previously shown that it has rapid and robust therapeutic effects on disorders such as depression by acting on the glutamate receptor pathways. Increasing evidence indicates that disruptions in glutamate signalling may play a role in OCD symptoms. The randomised controlled clinical trial involved comparing a subject who was administered a single low dose of IV (intravenous) ketamine to a placebo subject. The results showed that those who received the ketamine reported a rapid and remarkable relief in their OCD symptoms. The positive effects were reported to last up to seven days.
Ketamine is a drug that belongs in a class known as dissociative anaesthetics. Other well known drugs that fall into this categorisation include phencyclidine (PCP) and nitrous oxide (NOS). It was introduced commercially into the medical world in the 1970’s with the description from the manufacturer reading, “rapidly acting, nonbarbiturate general anaesthetic”.
The dissociative, which was invented by Calvin Stevens in 1962 and originally called CL369, started to become popular with the party crowd in the ’80s in the UK, just as ecstasy started hitting the scene. It is said to produce effects similar to being drunk, but more powerful and psychedelic. Users often report ‘falling into a k-hole’ where they experience strong hallucinations, sometimes even experiencing themselves leaving their body.
Dozens of other studies have been conducted over the past few decades, with many promising results being published that show ketamine can be used for more than just its anaesthetic and hallucinogenic properties, including as a treatment for major depression in patients that haven’t responded to two or more medications, and as a novel treatment for gambling disorder.