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All About the New Ketamine Trial at the University of Otago

Depression remains one of the most challenging mental health conditions, affecting millions worldwide with varying degrees of severity. Traditional treatments…



Depression remains one of the most challenging mental health conditions, affecting millions worldwide with varying degrees of severity. Traditional treatments like psychotherapy and antidepressants are effective for many, yet a subset of patients find these methods inadequate. This has led to a burgeoning interest in alternative treatments, among which ketamine therapy stands out due to its rapid antidepressant effects. The University of Otago is spearheading a groundbreaking trial that seeks to extend the benefits of ketamine therapy, combining it with Behavioural Activation Therapy (BAT) to potentially prolong its efficacy.

The Promise of Ketamine as an Antidepressant

Ketamine, originally used as an anesthetic, has gained prominence for its swift action in alleviating depressive symptoms. Unlike conventional antidepressants that might take weeks to exert an effect, ketamine can produce mood improvements within hours. However, these benefits are generally short-lived, dissipating within days or weeks, which limits its long-term applicability in standard depression care. The new trial by the University of Otago addresses this issue by investigating whether the addition of BAT can maintain ketamine’s benefits longer.

Combining Ketamine with Behavioural Activation Therapy

Behavioural Activation Therapy is a straightforward, cost-effective treatment that combats depression by encouraging patients to engage in enjoyable activities that disrupt the cycle of depression. The integration of BAT with ketamine therapy is a novel approach in this trial. While half of the participants will receive only ketamine, the other half will undergo ketamine treatment in conjunction with BAT, potentially leading to more durable treatment outcomes.

Study Design and Participant Recruitment

The study aims to enroll 60 individuals from Christchurch and Dunedin who have not responded to traditional antidepressants. Participants will be divided into two groups: one receiving ketamine alone and the other receiving both ketamine and BAT. Each participant will take ketamine twice a week for eight weeks in a liquid form, which is expected to minimize the intensity of any dissociative effects compared to injectable forms.

Monitoring Long-term Effects

Following the initial treatment phase, both groups will be observed for an additional 12 weeks to assess the sustainability of the improvements. This phase is crucial to determine if BAT can effectively extend the antidepressant effects of ketamine after the treatment ends.

Challenges and Considerations

Despite its potential, ketamine therapy comes with its own set of challenges, including the possibility of dissociative effects, addiction, and other side effects like potential bladder issues and memory problems. The trial’s design, which involves a tightly controlled setting, aims to mitigate these risks. Additionally, participants must be prepared for the possibility that their improved mood might decline once ketamine administration ceases.

Implications for Future Treatment

If successful, this trial could significantly impact the treatment landscape for treatment-resistant depression, providing a more effective, longer-lasting treatment option. Moreover, it could pave the way for broader acceptance and use of ketamine in clinical settings.


The University of Otago’s trial is a beacon of hope for those grappling with treatment-resistant depression, exploring new avenues to enhance and prolong the effectiveness of ketamine therapy. By potentially extending the short-term benefits of ketamine with BAT, this research could herald a new era in the management of severe depression, offering renewed hope to those who have found little relief from traditional treatments.

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