Researchers study 'Special K' drug as potential tonic for depression

Despite a bevy of approved drugs for depression, the mood disorder remains one of the most difficult maladies to effectively treat. Noting some of the shortcomings of existing depression meds, researchers have begun to study the use of the anesthetic ketamine--known on the street as "Special K"--to combat severe depression.

At Houston's Neuro Psychiatric Center, researchers want to see whether one shot of the drug can ease the early mood problems associated with depression, tackling the disorder during a period when some existing meds can actually raise a patient's risk of committing suicide, ABC News reports. Depending on the success of the study, researchers want to do another study that involves three injections of ketamine per week.

A number of pharma companies such as GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) have pulled the plug on depression drug research because of the difficulties in developing the meds, such as a high placebo effect. Plus, existing depression meds have been maligned amid questions in the medical community about the benefits of the drugs for patients. Lately, however, researchers have turned to what could be viewed as unlikely sources for new depression treatments; for example, a U.K. scientist who is studying a chemical in psychedelic or "magic" mushrooms as an antidepressant.

Ketamine is sold illegally on the street, making the "Special K" drug one of the recent substances on narcotics lists of outlaw substances under consideration to treat depression.

"[Ketamine] is supposed to help for a couple months," Dr. Asim Shah, who directs the mood disorder program at Ben Taub General Hospital, near the site of the study, told ABC News. "The study is still under way, so it's hard for us to know now how long the effects will last. Will it cure depression for a year or longer? I don't think so. But we're hoping it will work for a few months in the second trial."

- here's the ABC News report