At TED2017, neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman proposed ketamine as a preventative medicine for mental illness.
Everyone’s been talking about the TED2017 conference held last week in Vancouver, B.C. Among the highlights of the conference was Columbia University neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman’s speech proposing a vaccine to prevent depression and PTSD in soldiers.
Washington Post has described the idea as “one of the biggest discoveries in mental health possibly since anti-depressants were developed in the 1950s.”
Brachman claims to have found a drug that could make soldiers more resilient to stress— and less likely to suffer depression and anxiety as a result of their experiences. She says her intention is not “to make super soldiers without empathy,” but help them manage their emotions with improved resilience.
The breakthrough came about by accident. While testing mouse behaviors in the laboratory, the mice were administered ketamine. Ketamine, a “dissociative general anesthetic”, is also commonly known as a recreational drug called Special K. When abused, it can cause powerful hallucinations and a feeling of being outside of the body.
Since the effects of ketamine are supposed to wear off within hours, and the mice were re-used in a later experiment of their resilience under chronic stress conditions. The mice given ketamine showed much higher resilience than the mice who had no prior exposure to ketamine. Even after weeks, the mice seemed immune to the depression normally associated with a stressful event.
The speech was extremely well received by TED audiences. Brachman attributes this to the prevalence of mental illness; 1 in 5 people have a diagnosable mental health condition. She hopes her work will help wipe out the stigma associated with mental illness. Tests of the drug on human subjects will begin as soon as next year.
“I think once we have treatments for diseases, or preventions for them, it really changes the conversation. Things are stigmatized in part when there’s nothing you can do about it. They’re also mythologized when there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said. “From my experience, it’s more common than not. I’ve shifted my perspective from some people have mental illnesses to almost everyone I’ve ever met has had some direct experience.”
Even with the opportunity of such a preventative treatment, it is still disgraceful that thousands of soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to witnessing and inflicting violence. Yes, wars have been taking place all over the world since time immemorial, but it is essential to remain hopeful and determinant that world peace is possible. Change begins with each individual deciding they will no longer tolerate these relentless, constant crimes against humanity.