Study to Look at Ketamine to Reduce ECT Side Effects


The largest trial to look into Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT in the UK in more than 30 years will look into how ketamine may reduce the unwanted side effects of ECT and speed its antidepressant effect. Though ketamine is not approved for use as an antidepressant, the University of Manchester study will look at the anesthetic’s ability to reduce the memory loss associated with ECT, and to reduce the number of ECT treatments needed.

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. Really sounds like something they would have done in the 50’s and 60’s… Psychiatry, going backwards after coming out of a generation of drug company engineered delusions. As if to say, “It turns out that our drugs were junk and there are no chemical imbalances… So perhaps we should just go back to the days of electroshock and LSD, except instead of LSD we’ll use ketamine?”

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  2. When I was younger, maybe ten years ago, I hanged a lot in some forums for the abuse of cough syrups which work similar to ketamine (NMDA blocking, etc). The chemicals made us contact foreign forms of life, etc, so it can’t be all bad! It is just crazy, people are using cough syrups to get a ketamine like high.

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  3. I’ve seen some exciting reports in the media of experimental successes with ketamine. How sad that it’s being incorporated as a supplement to ECT, rather than a less harmful treatment that makes ECT unnecessary. Can anyone comment on how in the world ketamine might prevent ECT caused memory loss?

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    • “Can anyone comment on how in the world ketamine might prevent ECT caused memory loss?”

      I have no idea. Ketamine works largely by blocking the NMDA channels which are also related memory formation (LTP, etc). The action of ketamine and similar drugs is very interesting in my opinion. I’ll have to read the article a bit later and think about it.

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  4. ECT is known to cause bad brain damage, permanent memory loss, suicide and early death and is pushed mainly on women for bogus “depression.” Studies by those like Read and Bentall, Harold Sackeim and many others conclude that ECT has no real benefits or efficacy for anything it pretends to treat while causing much damage to the victims of it. It’s just one of many forms of lobotomy by the mental death profession.

    I think the recent mainstream and other promotion of this barbaric, despicable, life destroying torture treatment to keep padding the pockets of powerful, wealthy psychiatrists as all their other useless, destructive treatments are being exposed is just another way of keeping the sinking Titanic of psychiatry going as usual. But sadly, it is the so called patients who are sinking with the ship while rich psychiatrists continue their luxury lives at the horrific literal EXPENSE of the destroyed lives of their countless victims.

    Books like DOCTORS OF DECEPTION and ECT web sites expose this terrifying horrible procedure for what it is: TORTURE AND ROBBERY OF ALL HUMAN RIGHTS, ONE’S MIND, MEMORY AND ABILITY TO FUNCTION, WORK OR CREATE! BARBARIC!! SAVAGERY!!

    ECT drove Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and others to suicide once they lost the ability to continue their writing careers due to lost memory, ability and will to live! Monstrous!

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  5. Here is a great article about the “great” ECT advocate, Harold Sackeim, finally admitting after a career of lies and fraud that his great government study for which he was paid handsomely did prove that ECT does cause brain damage, permanent memory loss and harm in general as his victims were saying all along as he discredited them. Of course, no surprise that it came out that Sackeim had financial conflicts of interest with the manufacturer of ECT machines just like those who press the brain damaging ECT switch now cause permanent damage to their victims for greed, power and status in the guise of mental health.

    Many other real brain experts are quoted in this great article below that nobody could read and still claim that ECT is anything but an evil, barbaric torture treatment, physical/psychological assault and out and out fraud given that it only “works” by causing brain damage as Dr. Peter Breggin exposed about ALL biopsychiatric “treatments.”

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  6. Summary of ECT literature review by Bentall & Reid about lack of efficacy of ECT, the immense harm done by ECT and other factors

    The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy:
    A literature review
    1Department of Psychology, University of Auckland (New Zeland)
    2Department of Psychology, Bangor University, Wales (United Kingdom)
    SUMMARY. Aim – To review the literature on the efficacy of electroconvulsive therapy [ECT], with a particular focus on
    depression, its primary target group. Methods – PsycINFO, Medline, previous reviews and meta-analyses were searched in an
    attempt to identify all studies comparing ECT with simulated-ECT [SECT]. Results – These placebo controlled studies show minimal
    support for effectiveness with either depression or ‘schizophrenia’ during the course of treatment (i.e. only for some patients,
    on some measures, sometimes perceived only by psychiatrists but not by other raters), and no evidence, for either diagnostic group,
    of any benefits beyond the treatment period. There are no placebo-controlled studies evaluating the hypothesis that ECT prevents
    suicide, and no robust evidence from other kinds of studies to support the hypothesis. Conclusions – Given the strong evidence
    (summarised here) of persistent and, for some, permanent brain dysfunction, primarily evidenced in the form of retrograde and
    anterograde amnesia, and the evidence of a slight but significant increased risk of death, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so
    poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified.
    Declaration of Interest: Neither author has any financial conflicts of interest in relation to this paper.
    KEY WORDS: ECT, evidence-based medicine, literature review, cost-benefit analysis.
    Received 22.12.2009 – Final version received 11.03.2010 – Accepted 14.03.2010

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    • Even though I already know in my heart and soul that the ECT done to me was damaging, this article is horrifying and confirms my worst fears. I wonder if the subsequent minor stroke I had many years later was at least partially caused by the ECT………hmmmmmm.

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  7. The 5 big lies of ECT by Dr. John Friedberg

    Dr. Friedberg is an American Neurologist and author of the book “Shock Treatment Is Not Good For Your Brain” and “Shock Treatment, Brain Damage and Memory Loss,” a peer reviewed article in the American Journal of Psychiatry

    “All ECT [electric shock] does is produce brain damage. …If you want brain damage, it’s your prerogative… there’s no more effective way than ECT. It’s more effective than a car wreck, or getting hit with a blunt instrument.”

    – Dr. John Friedberg, Neurologist, USA

    Dr. John Friedberg’s website: and



    NYC, May 18, 2001
    “In view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they (the masses) more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big.” Adolph Hitler. Mein Kampf, Vol.1, Ch. 10, 1924 tr. Ralph Manheim, 1943


    My name is John Friedberg. I am a board certified neurologist practicing in Berkeley, California.

    I was born in Far Rockaway (NYC) in 1942, graduated Lawrence High School, Yale University and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and for the past twenty years I’ve been seeing patients with every conceivable neurologic problem, from headaches to Huntington’s, in my office and in hospitals.

    I am in good standing with my hospitals, professional societies and licensing boards and I’m proud to say I’ve never been successfully sued.

    In 1975 I published my book “Shock Treatment Is Not Good For Your Brain” and in 1979 “Shock Treatment, Brain Damage and Memory Loss,” a peer reviewed article in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

    I do not believe in mental illness. Depression is no more “the same as diabetes” than heartbreak is the same as a heart attack.

    I do not believe in hypothetical diseases of the mind but there is no mistaking damage to the brain. Psychiatric drugs and electroshock inflict real injury in the name of treating fictive maladies. Paul Henri Thomas has Tardive Dyskinesia and heptatitis from psychiatric drugs and amnesia from the ECT.


    My opinions are based on my years of experience with patients and review of records from all over the country as an expert witness electroshock malpractice cases. They are based on ECT statistics from the six states which mandate reporting; and of necessity, my opinions are based on a lifetime following publications and statements issuing from the small but vocal minority of psychiatrists who believe in ECT and usually nothing but.

    Fortunately for me, the believers don’t always believe each other; their data frequently belie their conclusions; and what they actually do contradicts what they say they do. The truth slips out.

    As one example: we have known since the 1950’s that confining electroshock to the non-verbal hemisphere (usually the right as in “unilateral non-dominant ECT”) causes less verbal impairment and memory loss than bilateral ECT but the recommendation to begin with non-dominant ECT is honored mostly in the breech.

    Another example: the “grandfather” of ECT, Dr. Max Fink claims the rate of memory loss is 1 in 200. He has repeated this so often it sounds like a fact. But Harold Sackeim, Ph.D., just as much an enthusiast and just as aggressive, says Fink’s figure has “no scientific basis.”

    Who to believe? My view is that memory loss from ECT is no “side effect;” it’s the main effect and the best studies find it in 100% of subjects.

    Incidentally, Dr. Fink didn’t pick the number 1/200 out of thin air. 1/200 has consistently been the death rate from ECT administration – as far back as 1958 and as recently as Texas and Illinois in the 1990’s.


    Big Lie 1: Dr. Fink tells people that ECT is safer than childbirth. If one out of every 200 women were dying in delivery it would be front page news.

    Big Lie 2: ECT doesn’t cause brain damage. One picture will refute that. The illustration below (MRI on the right, CT left, same patient) depicts a large hemorrhage from ECT. Hemorrhages, large and small, cause permanent seizure disorders in some patients.

    ( Weisberg, L. Elliott, D and Mielke, D: Intracerebral Hemorrhage Following Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). November 1991, Neurology V 41 p 1849.)

    Another MRI study documented a breakdown of the blood brain barrier and cerebral edema – brain swelling – after each and every shock. (Mander et al: British Journal of Psychiatry, 1987: V 151, p 69-71)

    Big Lie 3: ECT is new and improved. The whole point of ECT is to trigger a convulsion and there is simply no way around the brain’s threshold: 100 joules of energy, a typical “dose,” whether brief pulse, square wave, sine wave, AC or DC, unilateral or bilateral, with or without oxygen equals the energy it takes to light up a 100 watt bulb for one second or drop a 73 pound weight one foot. And it’s the energy that does the damage.

    Big Lie 4: ECT is a “Godsend” (Fink again). In March of this year, Dr. Sackeim published a study in JAMA showing a “relapse rate” of 84% within six months of stopping ECT. It is no coincidence that improvement ceases just as the concussive effects are finally waning. Sackeim’s solution?: more ECT. Call it “maintenance” or call it “continuation,” just don’t stop. (JAMA. 2001;285:1299-1307).

    Big Lie 5: No one knows how ECT works. On the contrary, everyone knows how ECT works. It works by erasing memory and terrifying people.


    ECT isn’t back – it never went away. It’s more common than appendectomy.

    What has happened is that it’s advocates have grown more arrogant and the number of patients forced to undergo ECT against their will is increasing.

    This was brought to public attention by Paul Henri Thomas fighting for his life and his mind at Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island. Over the past two years he has been subjected to 60 shocks and a judge just ordered up 40 more. The newspapers state the Mr. Thomas was born in Haiti, emigrated from oppression and was granted American citizenship.

    To be held down, drugged and forcibly administered convulsive dose after convulsive dose of electroshock to the head: can anyone think of a greater assault on a human being’s rights – short of death – in the whole world? And it’s happening here in the land of the free. That’s not acceptable.

    We have had 60 years of poignant testimony from eloquent victims of electroshock. Ernest Hemingway complained it ruined his memory and put him out of business. He killed himself within weeks of concluding a second course of ECT. George Orwell ends 1984 with his protagonist being forced to love Big Brother on an electroshock table.

    I urge you to declare a moratorium on electroconvulsive therapy until it can be proven safe by evidence, not proclamation.

    I urge you to declare a moratorium on electroconvulsive therapy until patients can be guaranteed free and informed choice.

    Thank you.


    Posted by Sue Clark-Wittenberg at 3:06 PM

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  8. Excess amounts of excitatory neurotransmitter can cause neuronal damage. NMDA receptor antagonists such as ketamine can prevent this kind of damage by closing these glutamate receptors. If ketamine helps with memory problems of ECT, then does it mean that the memory loss of ECT is caused by excitotoxic damage done by excess glutamate release? Maybe.

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  9. Why are they doing research to back up a barbaric practice that destroys people? Who gives a fat damn what ketamine does? ECT should not be used against any living being, human or otherwise! Why are they pretending that this is a real “treatment” for anything? Junk science for a fradulant branch of medicine which uses lots flim flammery and snake oil peddling and copious amonts of smoke and mirrors!

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    • Thanks for the link. However, I think the idea that ketamine may reduce the memory problems of ECT is not entirely strange. A stroke or brain injure can cause a glutamate storm in the brain which is known to cause excitotoxic damage. Ketamine, PCP and other glutamate NMDA antagonist drugs block NMDA receptors so that glutamate can’t activate them. It is known that this can prevent the glutamate excitotoxicity.

      The way I see it, if ketamine helps with the memory and other longer term problems of ECT, then it seems to imply that ECT causes a glutamate storm with excitotoxic damage, which causes the memory problems. I also wonder if the damage is the primary way ECT ‘works’ in the first place.

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    • Kermit,

      I appreciate your posting the latest fraudulent claims of “new and improved” ECT to keep us on our toes. Such claims have been debunked by many experts studying the literature like that of Bentall and Read I have cited frequently as you know.

      I have done lots of research on ECT not because I have been threatened with it personally, but because it is one of biopsychiatry’s worst brain damaging torture treatments that should be abolished now.

      Like Philip Hickey below, I felt safe in assuming that despite any claims of new and improved ECT, we could expect and assume more of the same. You are right that his analysis was very helpful in validating my great skepticism about any claims that ECT is anything but a brain damaging, barbaric assault on human rights.

      I also want to say that MIA was not the same when you were away in my opinion. Your absence was very evident in that it seemed MIA was not as active, exciting and lively without your more frequent guiding presence. MIA has gotten quite exciting since your return. Just want you to know I appreciate your great contributions here and your absence made them all the more apparent.

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  10. Ketamine is a recreational drug in the same category as PCP. It’s a hallucinatory anesthetic that produces a sense of euphoria. ECT produces memory loss because it destroys brain tissue. The notion that this damage can be mitigated by concomitant injection of ketamine is absurd. 450 volts of electricity applied across the brain will damage brain tissue. Perhaps the idea of the ketamine is to capitalize on the euphoria effect so that victims will be distracted from the severe headaches and negative feelings that are routinely reported immediately after this so-called treatment. But psychiatrists wouldn’t be that cynical, would they?

    I have written more about this research study at, and more about shock “treatment” at

    Philip Hickey, PhD

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