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Laughing gas could improve treatment-resistant depression

Laughing

A breakthrough study finds.

Around 15 percent of people with depression are resistant to regular anti-depressants and can suffer for years with no relief. But a promising new study gives hope.

It’s said laughter is the best medicine and in the case of severe depression, that might be scientifically accurate.

It’s an extension of previous research that found an hour-long session of 50 percent nitrous oxide gas led to rapid improvements in patient’s depressive symptoms, though some participants experienced negative side effects like nausea, vomiting and headaches.

This new study, however, found that just 25 percent nitrous oxide gas was almost as effective and resulted in far fewer negative side effects.

“This investigation was motivated by observations from research on ketamine and depression,” said Peter Nagele, MD, chair of anesthesia and critical care at UChicago Medicine.

“Like nitrous oxide, ketamine is an anesthetic, and there has been promising work using ketamine at a sub-anesthetic dose for treating depression. We wondered if our past concentration of 50 percent had been too high. Maybe by lowering the dose, we could find the ‘Goldilocks spot’ that would maximise clinical benefit and minimize negative side effects.”

Depression affects around one million Australians, but it’s estimated around 15 percent of all depression sufferers don’t respond to standard antidepressant treatment—including medication, which is the most common and can have a range of mild to severe side-effects, and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

While Dr. Nagele admitted these are just “pilot studies… We need acceptance by the larger medical community for this to become a treatment that’s actually available to patients in the real world.”

He added: “There are millions of depressed patients who don’t have good treatment options, especially those who are dealing with suicidality. If we develop effective, rapid treatments that can really help someone navigate their suicidal thinking and come out on the other side — that’s a very gratifying line of research.”

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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