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This breakthrough drug relieves depression in just one dose

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Party drug may offer dramatic relief from depression

A well-known party drug known for its hallucinogenic properties has been shown to be a potent treatment for depression after just one dose – and without any psychosis-like side effects. The drug, lanicemine, acts similarly to ketamine, a party drug also known as “Special K”.

While previous research has shown that single doses of lanicemine can relieve depression symptoms with few side effects, a new study has found that repeated doses of the drug can provide long-lasting relief.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, involved 152 people with moderate to severe depression who had responded poorly to other antidepressants. They were then given either lanicemine or a placebo three times a week for three weeks.

The findings revealed that those who took lanicemine were less depressed than those who took the placebo, which is consistent with an earlier study from the National Institute of Health (NIMH) published in December of 2012 that showed how a single dose of lanicemine provided fast, but brief relief from depression symptoms.

In May, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York published a study where ketamine was given to patients with treatment-resistant depression patients who experienced dramatic relief within 24 hours, which is remarkable given that traditional antidepressants can take several weeks to kick in, not to mention they can also have some unpleasant side effects that can result in those taking them to go off the medication.

This latest placebo-controlled study provides additional support for the effectiveness of lanicemine, as researchers also evaluated whether repeated dosages of lanicemine would produce longer-lasting depression relief.

As a result, the new study found that lanicemine produced robust and dramatic antidepressant effects without any of the hallucinogenic side effects associated with the party drug, ketamine. The findings also demonstrated that relief from depression was sustained with repeated doses of lanicemine, and such relief continued for several weeks after the treatments.

Lanicemine, a so-called NMDA receptor antagonist, works to alleviate depression by blocking the binding of an amino acid, called glutamate, to a protein found on nerve cells. Glutamate is widely considered one of the most important neurotransmitters for normal brain function.

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"This is the largest study to date evaluating the antidepressant effects of an NMDA receptor antagonist," said Gerard Sanacora, PhD, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Yale Depression Research Program at Yale University.

Interestingly, the study revealed that any side effects from lanicemine were not clinically different from the side effects reported by those taking the placebo. Indeed, no serious side effects were reported, with the most common side effect being temporary dizziness around the time the drug or placebo was administered.

"Any new drug that can alleviate depression symptoms is to be welcomed, especially when it is targeted on those severe cases where other medications are not working. The early indications are that lanicemine, through its unique properties, may be such a drug," said depression expert, Dr. Nick Krasner, who has a medical practice in Sydney, Australia, but was not involved with the study.

David Nutt from the Imperial College London, who also was not involved in the study, agrees.

"This could be revolutionary – the first new drug treatment for depression in 50 years," he said.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Naurex are currently conducting clinical trials for ketamine-like agents with similar antidepressant properties, which could be available in the U.S. within two to three years.


1. Molecular Psychiatry, Lanicemine: a low-trapping NMDA channel blocker produces sustained antidepressant efficacy with minimal psychotomimetic adverse effects (advance online publication October 15, 2013); doi: 10.1038/mp.2013.130

2. Mount Sinai Hospital, News Release: Ketamine Shows Significant Benefit in People with Treatment-Resistant Depression (May 20, 2013)