Patients with major depressive disorder often have limited response to first-line and second-line medications; hence, novel pharmacological treatments are needed for treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Ketamine, an N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, has demonstrated rapid antidepressant effects in patients with TRD. The Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) convened a task force to review the evidence for efficacy and safety of racemic ketamine and to provide recommendations for its use in clinical practice.
A systematic review was conducted with computerized search of electronic databases up to January 31, 2020 using combinations of search terms, inspection of bibliographies, and review of other ketamine guidelines and consensus statements. The level of evidence and lines of treatment were assigned according to CANMAT criteria. Recommendations were given in question–answer format.
Intravenous (IV) racemic ketamine given as a single infusion has Level 1 evidence for efficacy in adults with TRD. The evidence for multiple infusions, given as an acute series or as ongoing maintenance treatment, is limited to Level 3. Adverse events associated with ketamine infusions include behavioral (e.g., dissociative symptoms) and physiological (e.g., hypertension) events. There is only Level 3 or 4 evidence for non-IV formulations of racemic ketamine. Consensus recommendations are given for clinical administration of IV ketamine including patient selection, facility and personnel issues, monitoring, and maintaining response.
Single-dose IV racemic ketamine is a third-line recommendation for adults with TRD. The need for repeated and maintenance ketamine infusions should be carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis with consideration of potential risks and benefits. Because of limited evidence for efficacy and risk for misuse and diversion, the use of oral and other formulations of racemic ketamine should be limited to specialists with ketamine-prescribing expertise and affiliations with tertiary or specialized centers.