03 March 2017

Ketamine no 'wonder drug' for depression

There is no added benefit to using ketamine over a standard anaesthetic during electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) according to new research from the University of Aberdeen.

The study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry this week found that patients receiving ECT received no additional benefit if they were anaesthetised using ketamine as opposed to the more commonly used anaesthetic, propofol.

The trial compared the use of ketamine as an anaesthetic during ECT against a more commonly used anaesthetic to see if it improves the symptoms of depression sooner. 

Ketamine is increasingly being used as a possible treatment for depression and recently there has been interest in its use in combination with ECT

 In the study, patients already being treated for depression and referred for ECT were anaesthetised with either ketamine or the traditional anaesthetic, propofol, but no additional benefit was found in those given ketamine.

Specifically, ketamine provided no advantage for reducing depression severity, number of subsequent ECT treatments required or in preserving cognitive performance. 

Now our results add to evidence that suggests ketamine during ECT is no more effective than propofol at alleviating depressive symptoms despite its promise..." Dr Gordon Fernie

Dr Gordon Fernie who worked on the trial said: “Electroconvulsive therapy is a highly effective treatment for severe depression, but factors including side effect profile, the necessity for extended hospital care, and stigma, restrict its use. 

“Accumulating interest in the use of ketamine as an acute treatment for severe depression and as the anaesthetic for ECT suggests that using ketamine could mitigate these factors.  However, evidence is equivocal.  In this controlled trial, we present results comparing ketamine with propofol anaesthesia for ECT. 

“Now our results add to evidence that suggests ketamine during ECT is no more effective than propofol at alleviating depressive symptoms despite its promise when given in smaller, sub-anaesthetic doses.

“This trial was the final piece of research conducted by Professor Ian Reid before his untimely death in 2014 cut short his psychiatric and research career investigating ECT and the treatment of depression.”



Notes for Editors

The KANECT study was funded by The Chief Scientist’s Office

Dr Gordon Fernie is available for interview – please call Wendy Davidson to arrange 01224 273174

  1. The British Journal of Psychiatry (known as BJPsych) is a leading international psychiatric journal. It contains the best original research papers from around the world covering all branches of the subject, with an overriding concern to improve the prevention, investigation, diagnosis, treatment, and care of mental illness, and the promotion of mental health globally.
  1. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional medical body responsible for supporting over 18,000 psychiatrists in the UK and internationally.

 We set standards and promote excellence in psychiatry and mental healthcare.


  1. We lead, represent and support psychiatrists nationally and internationally to governments and other agencies.


  1. We aim to improve the outcomes of people with mental illness, and the mental health of individuals, their families and communities. We do this by working with patients, carers and other organisations interested in delivering high quality mental health services. 

Issued by the Communications Team
Directorate of External Relations, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen
Tel: +44 (0)1224 272014

Contact: Wendy Davidson
Issued on: 03 March 2017


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