BACKGROUND: Mood disorders are a leading cause of morbidity. Many patients experience treatment-resistant depression (TRD), and suicide rates are rising. Faster-acting and more effective antidepressant medications are needed. Four decades of research has transformed the use of ketamine from an anesthetic to an outpatient treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD). Ketamine is a N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist and has been shown to rapidly improve mood symptoms and suicidal ideation by targeting the glutamate system directly.
METHODS: We used the PubMed database to identify relevant articles published until September 1, 2020. We focused on meta-analyses, randomized controlled trials, and original observational studies. We included relevant studies for depression, MDD, TRD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide, ketamine, and esketamine.
RESULTS: Both racemic ketamine and esketamine have been shown to rapidly treat depression and suicidality. There is evidence that ketamine can be helpful for anxiety and PTSD; however, more research is needed. Intranasal esketamine has been FDA approved to treat depression.
CONCLUSIONS: This narrative review describes the evolution of ketamine to treat mood disorders and suicidality. We provide the evidence supporting recent developments using esketamine as well as unresolved issues in the field, such as dosing and safety.