A new mouse study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) has found that ketamine, given to people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may have blunted their fear responses to stressful shocks.

The study shows that ketamine may be a useful alternative therapy for soldiers and others with PTSD who frequently experience harrowing psychological trauma as part of their disorder.

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Researchers intravenously administered in mice a small dose of either ketamine or a placebo before they were subjected to a series of small shocks, a press release from CUMC reported. Afterwards, they assessed the animal’s freezing behavior, which is a measure of their conditioned fear response.

"Ketamine is a powerful drug, and we wouldn't advocate widespread use for preventing or reducing PTSD symptoms. 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," said lead study author Christine A. Denny, Ph.D, according to the release.

Ketamine is typically used to induce anesthesia before surgery or other procedures, according to Drugs.com. Under the United States Controlled Substance Act, ketamine is a Schedule III substance, meaning that the government accepts the drug’s medical potential, but abusing it could lead to “moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.” Unlike some other drugs, ketamine is useful both for its anesthetic effects, and for the very psychological effects that landed it on the list of controlled substances.

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Previous studies have shown that the drug MDMA, also a club favorite, reduces the symptoms of PTSD, Medical Daily reported. Ketamine has also been linked to treating migraines and chronic pain.

PTSD United reported that symptoms of the disease include strong and unwanted memories of an event, bad dreams, emotional numbness, intense guilt or worry, angry outbursts, feeling “on edge,” and avoiding thoughts and situations that are reminders of the trauma. The anxiety disorder affects the lives of an estimated 8 percent of Americans, which is about 24.4 million people.

Source: McGowan JC, LaGamma CT, Lim SC, Tsitsiklis M, Neria Y, Brachman RA, Denny CA. Prophylactic Ketamine Attenuates Learned Fear. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017.

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