STEM-Talk: Dr. John Edwards on ketamine treatment for depression and suicide prevention

Dr. Johnathan Edwards, an anesthesiologist, joins STEM-Talk for a frank conversation about the problem that suicide presents in American life, and the role ketamine could have in countering that.

Dr. John Edwards appears on Episode 165 to discuss ketamine as a therapeutic treatment for depression and suicide prevention.

Episode 165, featuring Edwards, is available now on IHMC’s website and other podcast platforms.

Ketamine was developed in 1960s in the search for an anesthetic that did not cause post-operative delirium. It became the most used anesthetic in the world. In the 1990s, researchers found that in low doses it had a huge effect on eating-disorder patients. It was tried in treatment-resistant depression patients, then in the prevention of suicidal ideation.

While ketamine has been found to be safe in therapeutic settings, a dark side of it is the way it has become adopted as a drug of abuse.

Our conversation with Edwards also covers the benefits that psychedelics — including ketamine and MDMA — show in treatment of depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.

“MDMA could be the drug of choice for treatment of PTSD,” given its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of PTSD, Edwards said.  Ketamine is similarly effective in relieving the depression.

The conversation also includes:

  • The potential adverse effects of ketamine, especially in light of the October 2023 death of “Friends” actor Matthew Perry, who had used ketamine as apart of treatment for depression and addiction.
  • How ketamine and traditional psychotherapy should be paired together.
  • The role of isolation in the prevalence of drug overdoses and overdose deaths.
  • Groups for whom ketamine should not be used.
  • The role that MDMA could have in the treatment of PTSD, particularly in veterans. “At least we’ve gotten over the fact that there is PTSD,” Edwards said. “Even after as much study has been done, I still feel like we haven’t arrived at a place where we are going to see legislation to support veterans in the way they need to be supported.”

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technology aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. IHMC researchers and staff collaborate extensively with the government, industry and academia to help develop breakthrough technologies. IHMC research partners have included: DARPA, the National Science Foundation, NASA, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Institutes of Health, IBM, Microsoft, Honda, Boeing, Lockheed, and many others.