Update on Clinical Utilization of Ketamine in Suicide Prevention, Including Psychedelics

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Alan F. Schatzberg, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine, presents as part of the 2023 Suicide-Focused Assessment and Treatment: An Update for Professionals course.

Psilocybin and Ketamine

Psilocybin and ketamine have been shown to have effects on suicidal ideation. In his talk, Schatzberg discusses how these substances work, their implications in treating suicidality, and current research on the topic.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • Why researchers are interested in psilocybin and ketamine for treating suicidality
  • How psilocybin and ketamine work
  • What the future of psilocybin and ketamine treatment holds

Currently, only one medication, Clozaril, is approved for treatment in suicide prevention. “We really are still in need of rapid treatments and effective treatments for suicidal patients, particularly those with major depression,” Schatzberg states.

In his talk, Schatzberg outlines why psilocybin and ketamine have piqued the interest of the research community.

Psilocybin, found naturally in certain mushrooms, has a similar chemical structure to serotonin. Psilocybin has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples and was studied as an adjunct to psychotherapy in the 1950s and 60s before Nixon criminalized psychedelics.

In recent years, the field of psychiatry has begun to re-explore the potential of psychedelics to treat depression and suicidality.

View the Slides

Schatzberg explains that while some data show psilocybin may decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, other data show that some individuals may develop suicidal behavior while taking the substance.

“We don’t see here a real answer as to whether these drugs are going to be very helpful in suicidal patients,” Schatzberg states. “In fact, we have a suggestion that there may be a risk for eruption of suicidal behavior, and so that has to be studied.”

Schatzberg points out that in contrast to psilocybin, ketamine has been explored in various studies that have included patients who have suicidal ideation or behavior. He states that ketamine is commonly used in clinics, where it is primarily given intravenously to treat patients for chronic pain.

Ketamine’s indication, printed on its package label, is for the treatment of refractory depression in individuals who have suicidal ideation or behavior. It is not for the prevention of suicide or the treatment of suicide itself.

Schatzberg elaborates on how the field of psychiatry might build on the drug’s anti-suicide effect.


You may also find this information useful:

About Alan F. Schatzberg

Dr. Alan F. Schatzberg is the Kenneth T. Norris, Jr., Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He directs the Stanford Mood Disorders Center and is an active investigator in the biology and psychopharmacology of depressive disorders.

Dr. Schatzberg is the author of over 700 publications and abstracts and has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine.