The Clinical Center is the centerpiece of NIH’s 310-acre campus in Bethesda, MD. Mouse over the image to see where ketamine study volunteers stay.

Volunteer for a Clinical Trial

As of 2015, there are dozens of ketamine trials underway across the US at any given time.  Some are large-scale studies conducted at world-class institutions like NIH, while others are smaller in scope.  They vary widely in their purpose.  The earliest studies simply measured the depression relief patients experienced (or didn’t) after a single infusion.  Later studies looked at the effect of multiple infusions, or focused on more narrowly-defined conditions, like bipolar, PTSD, or social anxiety; or specific symptoms like suicidality.  There have been ketamine depression studies that focus just on adolescents, or patients who also suffer from alcohol dependence, and many other variations.

Easing suffering vs. creating wealth
There aren’t many scientists with the training and expertise to conduct this kind of research, and funding is always a struggle. We think it’s tragic that some of these valuable resources are not seeking to unravel ketamine’s secrets, but are instead searching for ketamine-like drugs that can make billions for Big Pharma.  A ketamine-like drug that is patented, even if it less effective than ketamine, would become an instant blockbuster.  But the resulting windfall for Big Pharma would do nothing to advance our fundamental understanding of depression, or our search for the best possible treatment.
The most important studies, in our view, are those trying to decipher the mechanisms that underlie ketamine’s antidepressant action.  In our view, this type of research holds the most promise for the greatest number of sufferers.  If researchers can completely explain exactly how ketamine works, it would revolutionize the way doctors and the public think about depression, and could open the door to treatments that are even more effective.  We may look back one day on ketamine as the compass that showed us the way towards an even better solution, but we’re not there yet. Today, ketamine has no equal in rapidly relieving extreme treatment-resistant depression, bipolar, and PTSD.

Most patients in these studies volunteered primarily because they wanted to see if ketamine could help them. It’s usually the most cost-effective way because there’s no fee involved, and in some cases volunteers even receive a small payment. In addition to helping themselves, volunteers also provide valuable research data that might help all of us. If you find you’re a responder, you can get additional treatment from a ketamine clinic later, although it won’t be free. If you volunteer for a single-infusion study and fail to respond, you might still decide to seek more infusions later because many patients don’t respond until after multiple treatments.

NIH runs a website called ClinicalTrials.gov that tracks studies around the world. This is the best way to find a clinical trial that suits you. The search box on the home page makes it easy to find studies on any topic, and you can optionally view results on a map to find the ones nearest you. Note that some studies are conducted in multiple locations. For example, with large NIH studies it’s common for several universities to participate and aggregate their data.

Each ClinicalTrials.gov entry explains the purpose of the study and how it’s conducted. It also shows the drug and dosage that will be administered, eligibility criteria you must meet, and criteria that would exclude you. Finally, it will provide a contact who can answer your questions and take your application.

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