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Desperate for antidepressants

Unapproved use of a dangerous drug skyrockets

A vial of ketamine Associated Press/Photo by Teresa Crawford

Desperate for antidepressants

Ketamine, a drug first used in the 1960s as an anesthetic for animals and people, is suddenly popping up across the United States as a treatment for depression despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved it for that purpose.

The American Society for Ketamine Physicians, representing about 140 U.S. doctors, nurses, psychologists, and others who offer ketamine treatment, formed last year. Just three years ago, only about 20 ketamine clinics existed in the United States. That number has jumped to 150, according to society co-founder Megan Oxley.

While some praise the drug as a lifesaver for the 100 million people worldwide who don’t respond to conventional depression treatment, others warn too little research exists to know if it’s a safe antidepressant. Researchers have conducted only a few very small trials and only in a laboratory setting.

Exactly how ketamine works remains unclear, but it appears to affect a different brain pathway than traditional treatments. Commonly used antidepressants can take weeks to become effective, a dangerous delay for suicidal patients. And even then, conventional medications do not help up to 30 percent of the people who take them. Ketamine, on the other hand, works within hours and often benefits people who do not respond to FDA-approved drugs. But ketamine offers short-term benefits only: A single IV dose can provide relief of depressive symptoms within four hours, but the effects only last about a week. Possible side effects include rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and hallucinations.

Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine recently discovered that ketamine appears to activate the brain’s opioid system, a fact that has some concerned ketamine could turn into the next wave in the opioid abuse crisis. Already, abuse of ketamine is booming, particularly among the nightclub and party crowd, and it is well-known as a date-rape drug.

Ketamine clinics often promise unproven benefits, Stat Medicine reported. Some don’t thoroughly screen patients, and experts worry they’re offering the drug to anyone who can afford it. Clinics can charge anywhere from $350 to close to $1,000 per infusion, and many patients get at least six rounds of the treatment. Patients are “getting treatments they may not need or that don’t work, or they’re getting more than they needed,” Jeffrey Lieberman, chief psychiatrist of Columbia University Medical Center, told Stat. Doses and frequency of treatment vary widely among clinics, and the ketamine providers often don’t coordinate care with a patient’s mental health provider.

But warning and risks aside, many patients clamor for the drug. Actify Neurotherapies, a ketamine infusion provider that oversees 10 ketamine clinics, said it has received nearly 28,000 inquiries just since January.

Octopus moms gather to incubate their eggs

The largest cluster of octopuses ever discovered in one area astounded researchers aboard the deep-sea exploration vessel Nautilus nearly two weeks ago. The scientists could not count the creatures curled in rocky nooks that dotted the seafloor but estimated there were at least 1,000.

The cephalopod community lies two miles below the water’s surface in a huge expanse at the foot of an underwater mountain in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary off California’s central coast. The creatures, all brooding females, wedged themselves among rocks studded with orange anemones, their outer arms wrapped around their bodies to protect the dozens of eggs each incubated.

A video from Nautilus Live (see below) shows some of them gently cleaning their rocky abodes. Shimmers in the water caused the researchers to think some type of fluid is flowing from underground and attracting the usually solitary octopuses. The scientists also hope to study what the octopuses eat, why they chose that particular spot to congregate, and how long it takes them to incubate their eggs.

The only similar sighting occurred in 2013 when researchers found more than 100 brooding octopuses off the coast of Costa Rica. —J.B.

Scientists imitate nature to design self-cooling material

Inspired by the way God designed the human body to maintain a steady internal temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of the external environment, bioengineers developed a new composite material that can cool itself down in extreme heat.

“This approach will result in an advanced material that can absorb high solar radiation, as the human body can do, to cool itself autonomously whatever the environment it is placed in,” lead researcher Mark Alston said in a statement. The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers say doctors could use the material to cool the surface temperature of skin to treat burns, and aerospace engineers could use it on the surface of space capsules. Space flight often puts capsules in high heat situations that can stress their structural integrity. But this material could automatically maintain the capsule’s temperature in much the same way our bodies maintain our internal temperature even when we are out in the hot sun. And the thermal energy captured by the system could be stored in a reservoir tank onboard the space vehicle and later converted into electricity. —J.B.

Stopping marijuana use quickly improves memory

Regular use of marijuana harms memory, but according to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, at least some of those impairments can quickly reverse if the user stops.

The research involved 88 participants between the ages of 16 to 25 who acknowledged using cannabis at least once a week. The scientists compared performance on weekly memory tests of one group that stopped cannabis use for 30 days to another group that continued. According to the analysis, the group that stopped using cannabis showed significant improvement in the ability to learn and recall new information, and the improvement occurred mostly during the first week.

The results of a recent survey indicate that more than 13 percent of middle and high school students use cannabis, and rates of daily use increase between grades eight and 12, the researchers said in a statement. Further study is needed to assess if memory improvement continues with longer periods of abstinence. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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