The tranquiliser, traditionally used to sedate horses, has, over the last decade become a staple for ravers, stay-at–home–caners and students who are thrilled by its relative inexpensiveness so don't really give a shit what it does. But now it's being used in preliminary trials to treat patients with mental health issues.
Speaking to the BBC, lead researcher Dr Rupert McShane said, "It really is dramatic for some people, it's the sort of thing really that makes it worth doing psychiatry, it's a really wonderful thing to see. The patients say 'ah this is how I used to think' and the relatives say 'we've got x back'."
One woman whose daughter had received the treatment was astounded by her progress. "After she had the treatment, she's already feeling better before we leave the hospital, it works that quickly," she said. "She's chatty, she's confident, she concentrates better, she's not as withdrawn as she'd normally be. After one lot of treatment she went out for a walk on her own, which she's not done in about ten years."
However, this doesn't mean that ketamine will be readily available to treat depression - so far, despite overwhelmingly positive results, the team have been unable to maintain a defined response period to the treatment. One patient saw his mental health improve over a period of nine months, whereas some only feel the benefits for a matter of hours.
"It seems to last only a rather short amount of time," said McShane. "This is a study that's on the parth of development as a potential treatment, but there's a long way to go. It won't be routinely available until we can find a way of maintaining the effect in a more reliable way."