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Randomized Controlled Crossover Trial of Ketamine in
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Proof-of-Concept

Ketamine for Obsessive-compulsive disorder  <ARTICLE

Ketamine has effectiveness on the short run when it comes to treating Obsessive-compulsive disorders:

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), the first-line pharmacological treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), have two
limitations: incomplete symptom relief and 2–3 months lag time before clinically meaningful improvement. New medications with faster
onset are needed. As converging evidence suggests a role for the glutamate system in the pathophysiology of OCD, we tested whether a
single dose of ketamine, a non-competitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor antagonist, could achieve rapid antiobsessional
effects. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, drug-free OCD adults (n ¼ 15) with near-constant
obsessions received two 40-min intravenous infusions, one of saline and one of ketamine (0.5 mg/kg), spaced at least 1-week
apart. The OCD visual analog scale (OCD-VAS) and the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) were used to assess OCD
symptoms. Unexpectedly, ketamine’s effects within the crossover design showed significant (po0.005) carryover effects (ie, lasting
longer than 1 week). As a result, only the first-phase data were used in additional analyses. Specifically, those receiving ketamine (n ¼ 8)
reported significant improvement in obsessions (measured by OCD-VAS) during the infusion compared with subjects receiving placebo
(n ¼ 7). One-week post-infusion, 50% of those receiving ketamine (n ¼ 8) met criteria for treatment response (X35% Y-BOCS
reduction) vs 0% of those receiving placebo (n ¼ 7). Rapid anti-OCD effects from a single intravenous dose of ketamine can persist for at
least 1 week in some OCD patients with constant intrusive thoughts. This is the first randomized, controlled trial to demonstrate that a
drug affecting glutamate neurotransmission can reduce OCD symptoms without the presence of an SRI and is consistent with a
glutamatergic hypothesis of OCD.


Ketamine is a noncompetitive antagonist of the NMDA
receptor (a type of glutamate receptor). Studies in patients
with unipolar and bipolar depression have found that a
single intravenous infusion of ketamine can have antidepressant
effects within 40 min of starting the infusion.
These effects persist for 3–18 days, long after the drug has
cleared the patient’s system (Berman et al, 2000;
Diazgranados et al, 2010a, b; Murrough et al, 2012; Valentine
et al, 2011; Zarate et al, 2006, 2012a). We treated an
unmedicated individual with OCD with ketamine (0.5 mg/kg
IV over 40 min) and found rapid anti-obsessional effects that
returned to baseline by 1-week post-infusion (Rodriguez
et al, 2011). Bloch et al (2012) conducted an open ketamine
trial in 10 subjects with OCD and found modest but
statistically significant improvement in OCD symptoms
over days 1–3 following ketamine infusion compared with
baseline; however, most subjects in this study were taking
multiple other medications at the time of infusion.

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