Researchers have found that giving a small dose of ketamine one week before a psychologically traumatic event may help prevent PTSD. The study (McGowan et al., 2017), conducted in mice, shows the drug’s potential to prevent PTSD in soldiers and others likely to experience psychological trauma.
“Ketamine is a powerful drug, and we wouldn’t advocate widespread use for preventing or reducing PTSD symptoms,” said study leader Christine A. Denny, PhD, assistant professor of clinical neurobiology in Psychiatry at Columbia.
However, he went to say that in the future ketamine may be used much like a vaccine, given prophylactically to individuals at high-risk of developing PTSD.
“But if our results in mice translate to humans, giving a single dose of ketamine in a vaccine-like fashion could have great benefit for people who are highly likely to experience significant stressors, such as members of the military or aid workers going into conflict zones.”
PTSD Hard to Prevent or Treat
According to this study,
There are few effective therapies for preventing or treating PTSD, an anxiety disorder that occurs in about one-quarter of individuals who experience psychological trauma. PTSD symptoms include re-living the trauma—experiencing repeated flashbacks, hyperarousal, and hyperreactivity—as well as mood changes, psychological numbing, and chronic physical symptoms such as headache.
The likelihood that symptoms will develop depends on the nature and intensity of the trauma and an individual’s response.”
Ketamine Helpful Both Before and After Trauma
The study gave a small dose of intravenous ketamine to mice one week before they were subjected to a series of small shocks. These mice (unlike those that had received a placebo) exhibited reduced freezing behavior when they were returned to the test environment.
In addition, researchers found that giving ketamine one hour after a second shock decreased fear expression. Suggesting that ketamine may help those who have already been affected by trauma.
Previous studies, in both humans (McGhee, Maani, Garza, Gaylord, & Black, 2008) and animals (Brachman et al., 2016), have shown that ketamine can help reduce stress-related symptoms.
The researchers at Columbia are now studying how ketamine works in the brain to influence the response to stress. They hope to study the prophylactic use of ketamine in humans, ideally among military personnel.