BACKGROUND: The introduction of esketamine into the field of psychiatry comes on the heels of excitement from studies on racemic ketamine. While the intranasal route has been the most studied to date, other modes of administration of esketamine may also be of interest in the management of depression.
AIMS: To systematically review the literature on non-intranasal esketamine for depression in terms of its antidepressant effect and safety.
METHODS: We searched PubMed, Embase, the Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar from inception up to February 2021. Search terms included a combination of Medical Subject Headings and text words indicative of esketamine and depression. We selected both controlled and uncontrolled studies examining non-intranasal esketamine for the treatment of depression.
RESULTS: We identified four randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on intravenous esketamine and 15 open-label studies on intravenous (n = 80), subcutaneous (n = 73), and oral (n = 5) esketamine. We found intravenous, subcutaneous, and possibly oral administration of esketamine to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms in most patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar depression, and (severe) treatment-resistant depression. Clinical response to repeated administration of esketamine persisted over the course of treatment. Esketamine was well tolerated by most patients, but open-label data indicate marked psychotomimetic symptoms in exceptional cases. The overall quality of the controlled studies was considered high, the overall quality of the uncontrolled studies low to moderate.
CONCLUSIONS: Intravenous, subcutaneous, and possibly oral esketamine may offer an effective and safe addition to the depression treatment armamentarium. However, as most included studies lacked a control group and had small sample sizes, the quality of our results is limited. Different types and formulations of ketamine remain to be compared directly.