The theory about what causes depression is it’s a disease caused by a dysfunction in the brain’s neurotransmitters. Antidepressant drugs restore the dysregulated chemistry and gets the system back into balance. However, in 1 out of 3 depressed patients those medications don’t work. The modern practice of psychopharmacology demands that other drugs be added, like anti-seizure medications and atypical antipsychotic agents which work by entirely different mechanisms.

A new treatment has been announced, called “the biggest breakthrough in depression research in half a century” (Science, Oct. 5, 2012). Scientists have prescribed Ketamine for chronically depressed patients. This is usually prescribed as a pre-anesthetic, but has hallucinogenic qualities. Among club goers it’s called “Special K” and it’s long been a favorite for those looking for dream-like highs.

It’s not clear how Ketamine works but it’s also different from existing formulations. Researchers think it regenerates synapses (the connections between brain cells) that become damaged by stress and chronic despair.

Synthetic mind altering chemicals like Ketamine, LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy), in addition to natural organic psychoactive substances (in cacti, vines, weeds, mushrooms, flowers, and animal skins) have been used since antiquity in the treatment of mental problems, addictions, PTSD, and a host of visionary seekers.
I once used it for a dying patient crippled by end-of-life anxiety for whom it provided profound relief ( HYPERLINK “” The New York Times Magazine (April 22, 2012) featured an article in which Psilocybin  (the psychoactive agent in magic mushrooms) was given to 12 seriously depressed cancer patients and every one of them reported significant relief of symptoms.

The brain is hardwired for mystical experience; we are biologically programmed to have visionary experience. Hallucinogenic drugs activate that portion of the brain that fuzzes the boundaries between the real world and the imaginary one. It serves an important function, which healers have always known. You can get into that altered state by chanting, drumming, dancing, rituals and ceremonies; they all open channels into that part of the brain that allows one to see the world from an entirely different perspective.

My concern is that Big Pharma will surely want to pursue this route and will market it as the next panacea for whatever ails you. Don’t get sucked into another pill that promises to remove the lampshades of fear, doubt, sadness, and anxiety, there are many more organic ways to lift the spirit.