April 27, 2023

Ketamine: How Special is Special K?

by Science Vs

Background show artwork for Science Vs

For years, ketamine has been thought of mostly as a horse tranquilizer — or a street drug that puts you in a scary-sounding K-hole. But now, we’re hearing reports that it could be almost a miracle medicine, treating stubborn depression and other mental illnesses. So how good is it, really? And could using a drug like this for depression actually be dangerous? We talk to researchers Dr. Rebecca Price, Prof. Colleen Loo, and Prof. Gerard Sanacora – and Fernanda Graciolli.

UPDATE 4/28/23: A previous version of this episode incorrectly described Dr. Rebecca Price’s role in a 2009 study of ketamine’s effect on depression and suicidal thoughts, back when she was a graduate student. The episode has been updated accordingly.

This episode does deal with depression and suicidal thoughts. Here are some crisis hotlines: 

Find our transcript here: https://bit.ly/ScienceVsKetamine

In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) Intro: Ketamine - a new wonder drug? 

(05:47) Chapter One: Ketamine and depression

(10:37) Chapter Two: What does ketamine do in the brain?

(15:04) Chapter Three: But ketamine doesn’t help everyone …

(20:17) Chapter Four: The risks of using ketamine

(24:30) Chapter Five: Ketamine and addiction

(25:54) Chapter Six: Overall — what should we make of ketamine?

This episode was produced by Michelle Dang,Wendy Zukerman, R.E. Natowicz, Joel Werner, Rose Rimler, and Meryl Horn. We’re edited by Blythe Terrell. Gimlet’s managing director is Nicole Beemsterboer. Fact checking by Erica Akiko Howard. Mix and sound design by Catherine Anderson. Music written by Bobby Lord, Peter Leonard, Bumi Hidaka, So Wiley, and Emma Munger. Thank you to researchers Prof. Bita Moghaddam and Grace Forsyth. Special thanks to Flora Lichtman, Jorge Just, the Zukerman Family and Joseph Lavelle Wilson. 

Science Vs is a Spotify Original Podcast and a Gimlet production. Follow Science Vs on Spotify, and if you want to get notifications every time we put out a new episode, tap the bell icon in your app.