Improvement in suicidal ideation after ketamine infusion: Relationship to reductions in depression and anxiety

This post-hoc meta-analysis (n=133) examined the relationship between the antidepressant efficacy of intravenous ketamine (35mg/70kg) and its effects on suicidal ideation (SI) among patients with depression. Ketamine increased the patient’s wish to live and decreased their wish to die, and these reductions in suicidal ideation independent of reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms.


Objective: Suicide is a psychiatric emergency. Currently, there are no approved pharmacologic treatments for suicidal ideation. Ketamine is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist that rapidly reduces suicidal ideation as well as depression and anxiety, but the dynamic between these symptoms is not known. The aim of this analysis was to evaluate whether ketamine has an impact on suicidal thoughts, independent of depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Methods: 133 patients with treatment-resistant depression (major depressive disorder or bipolar I/II disorder) received a single subanesthetic infusion of ketamine (0.5mg/kg over 40 minutes). Post-hoc correlations and linear mixed models evaluated the relationship between suicidal ideation and depression and anxiety symptoms using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD), Scale for Suicidal Ideation (SSI), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAMA) focusing on 230 minutes post-infusion.

Results: At 230 minutes post-infusion, correlations between changes in suicidal ideation and depression ranged from 0.23 to 0.44 (p <. 05), accounting for up to 19% in the variance of ideation change. Correlations with anxiety ranged from 0.23 to 0.40 (p < .05), accounting for similar levels of variance. Ketamine infusion was associated with significant reductions in suicidal ideation compared to placebo, when controlling for the effects of ketamine on depression (F(1,587)= 10.31, p = .001) and anxiety (F(1,567)= 8.54, p = .004).

Conclusions: Improvements in suicidal ideation after ketamine infusion are related to, but not completely driven by, improvements in depression and anxiety. Investigation of the specific effects of ketamine on suicidal thoughts is warranted.”

Authors: Elizabeth D. Ballard, Dawn F. Ionescu, Jennifer L. Vande Voort, Mark J. Niciu, Erica M. Richards, David A. Luckenbaugh, Nancy E. Brutsché, Rezvan Ameli, Maura L. Furey & Carlos A. Zarate Jr

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