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The recreational use of drugs has long been a focal point for controversy, growing into a full-fledged epidemic in North America. Many of these psychoactive substances, while sometimes useful in restricted medicinal doses, are, in most cases, highly addictive and can quickly lead to destructive habits of self-medication. An example are the deaths from opioid overdose which have increased dramatically in the last few decades.

Though these drugs hold deadly potential, they have been at the center of a potential breakthrough in new therapeutic substance research: the conversion of recreational drugs into effective curative assets for sufferers of depression, suicidal thinking, and other conditions encircling a poor mental quality of life.


Finding beauty in notoriety

Ketamine, commonly referred to as “Special K” in certain communities, is a drug intended to induce anesthesia and sedate sufferers of chronic pain. Despite the drug’s clear benefits in healthcare-related settings, it, like many similar and contemporary substances, holds a secondary reputation as a recreational commodity. However, recent clinical trials would argue that this drug may hold a third identity: a potential “major breakthrough” step in therapy for major depressive disorder, and with breakthrough therapy designation, it seems like the FDA holds similar sentiments.

As recently as December, Johnson and Johnson (J&J), have reportedly been hard at work making the aforementioned possibility a reality. The company is already well into Ph. III trials of the intranasal form of the drug, dubbed “esketamine.” Ph. II trials were tested across 126 patients separated into three dose groups. Results were bittersweet; the tests revealed major improvement in patients’ Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating (MADRS) scores, but at the expense of side effects including “perceptual changes and dissociative symptoms.”


What does this mean for the future?

Though esketamine is yet to be fully evaluated by the FDA, J&J’s operations represent a growing branch of clinical research focused on therapeutic employment of recreational drugs. The future implications surrounding these efforts are as exciting as they are fascinating. Not to mention that J&J will be handsomely rewarded for these efforts as esketamine is predicted to be a pipeline “blockbuster”.

As governments work to contain widespread recreational drug abuse, the beneficial reimagining of these substances may allow researchers to help in “the war on drugs,” while subsequently minimizing the strife of those suffering from depressive mental conditions. Once abusive potential is mitigated and thoroughly researched, prevailing companies with products similar to esketamine will have access to an “enormous market,” even despite potential limitations in its initial rolling out process. Until that time, the “jury will remain out until phase III data are complete.”