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The veterinary tranquilizer ketamine — maybe better known as the illegal “club drug” Special K — may be reformulated for use as an antidepressant, and research workers report assuring early findings.

The goal would be to generate a ketamine- without nasty unwanted effects, for example hallucinations. In this new study, which researchers say is the most in-depth of its kind, depressed people who took the drug reported development over three weeks.

Although the findings have to be duplicated in other studies, “they do generate scientific data which will pave the way for future research,” said study coauthor Sanjeev Pathak, senior director of clinical development with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, which is financing the research.

It’s still uncertain whether the drug under development is safe or might be used long term.

The study, published online Oct. 15 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, additionally supplies increasing evidence that a new class of drugs with similar effects to ketamine could become accessible, said Michael Quirk, study co-author and manager of discovery and preclinical sciences with AstraZeneca.

In the U.S., about 9 percent of adults report depression, based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug companies want to bring a brand new antidepressant to the market since the present drugs don’t work for everyone.

“The working rule of thumb is the fact that a third of patients may get a reaction from the initial treatment with the antidepressant, but a considerable proportion neglect,” said Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, co-manager of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. Alexander was not involved with the research.

Failure of the first antidepressant treatment typically needs patients to attempt options. That, obviously, takes time, notably because antidepressants generally work slowly.

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Enter ketamine, which is used legally as an anesthetic in people and creatures. It could get individuals in a trancelike state and cause hallucinations, which has resulted in its prohibited use in the nightclub scene, where it’s called Special K or K.

In the last few years, scientists have begun to investigate ketamine as an antidepressant, and a few doctors are prescribing it off-label. It’s legal in the USA to prescribe government-approved drugs for authorized uses. Drug companies, however, expect to produce a nongeneric variation of a ketamine-like drug that they can sell and market.

Big questions remain regarding safety, effectiveness, long-term cost, use and side effects. The point is to capture the positive mood-changing properties without the unwanted effects that are negative.

The brand new research includes two Phase II studies, meaning AstraZeneca is partway through the three stages of research that drugs must go through for acceptance in America.

In the new studies, the researchers tested a drug called lanicemine, which, like ketamine, interrupts the way the brain processes neurotransmitters. In one of the studies, 152 individuals with depression were randomly assigned to take 100 milligrams or 150 milligrams of the drug or a placebo intravenously at three-day intervals for three weeks.

Were more likely to report improvement in their depression through the three weeks they got the drugs and for several weeks afterward, although the side effect of temporary dizziness was not unusual. Delusions and the hallucinations associated with ketamine weren’t evident.

More research is planned. “We’ve got a ways to go before deciding that this drug is satisfactorily safe or effective enough that it needs to be put in the marketplace,” Alexander said.

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