Scopolamine: A Rapid Responding Antidepressant

Depression Treatment

Rapid Responding Antidepressant
Rapid Responding Antidepressant

Promising Research

If you have heard of Scopolamine at all, you have most likely heard of it being used for motion sickness and as a sedative. And if you are familiar with the use of antidepressants, you know it typically takes three to four weeks before any improvements in mood symptoms can be detected.

If you are a person with severe symptoms or are caring for a patient or a loved one with suicidal thoughts and behaviors, three to four weeks is a long time to wait. Sometimes several medication trials are necessary to find the medication(s) that work, since responses vary from person to person, and due to differences in how different antidepressants work. It can take months to achieve satisfactory relief of symptoms. Most people will have given up by then, and are even more hopeless about getting better than they were before.

There are an estimated 30-40 percent of depressed patients who do not respond at all to antidepressants. Half of the people in the United States who are diagnosed with depression, are not receiving treatment at all, according to a recent study.

Antidepressants have already played a significant role in relieving depressive symptoms that historically were considered untreatable. Before antidepressants, a person with depression was all too often housed in a mental institution, and sometimes treated with harsh, primitive treatments that were not successful in alleviating symptoms.

Current research efforts have been focused on finding new medications that work differently from the current ones, that might be effective for the 30-40% of patients who are not helped by current antidepressants, and that act more quickly than the current ones. A recent clinical trial confirmed results from earlier research, and showed that scopolamine could alleviate symptoms of depression within days. The study was small and additional studies will need to be done, but the findings suggest that a different class of medication has the potential to provide rapid treatment of depression.

Most antidepressant medications target serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is known to play a role in mood symptoms. There has been previous research that has suggested that other neurotransmitter systems play a role in depression, but serotonin has been considered to be more central in the development of depression. Scopolamine interacts with cell receptors for the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.

The recent study was an attempt to repeat the results of an earlier study showing that scopolamine worked to relieve depressive symptoms quickly in patients with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. The recent study focused on people with major depressive disorder, and involved administering scopolamine or a placebo intravenously. Neither the patients nor the clinicians administering the medication knew who actually received the scopolamine.

The patients who received scopolamine reported positive effects by the time they returned for their second dose 3 to 5 days after their initial dose, and test scores measuring depressive symptoms declined 32-53% after three treatments. Some of the patients experienced complete remission of depressive symptoms. While it was a small study, 64% of participants achieved 50% reduction in symptoms by the end of the study.

Side effects of scopolamine include drowsiness, dry mouth, light headedness, and blurred vision. These symptoms typically resolve within hours. The antidepressant effects lasted weeks after the medication was no longer in the bloodstream. When used for motion sickness, the scopolamine is administered in smaller doses, which explains why the antidepressant effect hadn’t been noticed earlier. The study will need to be repeated in larger groups, and more practical ways to administer the medication, rather than intravenous, need to be developed. Additional research on exactly how the drug works and on developing new medications is needed. It will likely be several years before scopolamine will be developed and used as an antidepressant.

Depression is costly both to individuals and to society, and is painful. It is a leading cause of disability, and a significant risk factor for suicide – the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. The possibility of a rapid treatment will render hope to persons who are experiencing a disease that includes hopelessness as a symptom. The need for a rapid treatment for depression is an urgent one.


Drevets, W.C. and Furey, M.L. Replication of scopolamine's antidepressant efficacy in major depressive disorder: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Biological Psychiatry 67:432-8, 2010.

Furey, M.L. and Drevets, W.C. Antidepressant efficacy of the antimuscarinic drug scopolamine. Archives of General Psychiatry 63:1121-1129, 2006.

Understanding Depression

More by this Author

  • Admitting a Wrong:  The Challenge and the Reward

    Why is it so hard for people to admit when they are wrong? Research says it’s because that’s the way the human brain is wired. Our biased brain convinces us that we are right in spite of a mountain of...

  • Thoughts, Feelings and Actions

    Learning how our thoughts, feelings and actions interact with each other is a key step toward self discovery and personal empowerment. Learning to identify and correct "faulty" thinking patterns can lead to a...

  • Wet Brain: Thiamine, Diet, and Abstinence

    The term “wet brain” is an informal (non-medical) term used to describe a number of irreversible, organic brain diseases related to alcohol that cause mental impairment and physical disabilities.

Comments 20 comments

saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Kim this is a very informative hub and I thank you for sharing your knowledge. Depression has certainly become a widespread problem in societies around the world. So many people need not suffer. The advancement of medicines have suggested a turn for the better and it's medication as you've just described that are helping tremendously. I hope further cures are discovered for many of our generation. I give this hub a big up.

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Kim a well researched hub about a most difficult subject. This is still a subject taboo to many - a big thumbs up also from me.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

Thank you for your heart-felt comment saddlerider1. It is sad that people are still suffering depressive symptoms, when depression is so treatable.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

...and thank you billyaustin for your valuable feedback and ongoing support. I suspect it is the taboo, as well as the expense and the low priority that contributes to so many people not getting treatment.

valeriebelew profile image

valeriebelew 6 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

Wonderful news, Kimh, as the length of time it takes for antidpressants to work is a major problem, and some have historically committed suicide waiting for them to take effect. Very good news, and very well written. thumbs up to you. (: v

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

thanks v:) i was surprised to learn that 1/2 the people with depression don't get treatment!

Highvoltagewriter profile image

Highvoltagewriter 6 years ago from Savannah GA.

great stuff for someone like my self who has dealt with depression most of my life. Over all it has greatly improved thanks to the right medication and the right therapist. Also for me, the break though came about when I turned my life over to God. Thank you for this great hub!

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

Thank you so much for your kind words and personal endorsement, highvoltagewriter. I'm glad you found the right medication, and thanks for pointing out the importance of finding a "good fit" for a therapist as well. That can sometimes take some time too!

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

You got any on you? I could use some this morning! Thank you again Dear!

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

hmmm, you just made a good point Micky Dee. There are definitely some drawbacks to another instant feel good pill! I hope your struggles this morning challenge you to live up to your true Micky Dee throughout the day. I think you're wonderful. Thanks for stopping by.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Interesting hub, Kim! I know of this substance as an alkaloid that is found in several members of the nightshade family with poisonous but hallucinogenic properties. I have also heard that it has been used as a "truth serum." I was not aware it was used as an antidepressant too!

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago Author

It's not being used yet, Bard - still being researched. You'll really love my newest hub on ketamine being researched as a rapid responding antidepressant as well. Thanks for stopping to read and comment, Bard of Ely.

imatellmuva profile image

imatellmuva 5 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

Very interesting, well written, and quite informative. I'm on my way to read the hub on ketamine. I am helping someone to deal with and manage depression. While depression can be managed, it can take great pains to find the right medication and/or combination of med/therapy for a long-term and successful outcome. Too often people say, go to the doctor, and it's not as cut and dry as that. Finding a doctor that IS helpful to YOU is what's key.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Thank you imatellmuva. I think a lot of people can just "go to the doctor" - their PCP, and quickly find a med that is effective. Some people need to see a psychiatrist and a therapist for awhile to get better. A good fit is important, especially with the therapist; Although, I could see where a person with severe depression symptoms could try a thousand therapists and not ever find a good fit, because of the kind of thinking a person does with depression. If that's the case, I'd say just stick with one for awhile and start working with them. You should get some results in 6-8 session even if it's not a good fit. Your friend/loved one is lucky to have you for love and support. I'm going to follow you over to the hub on ketamine. If you're not there, I'ma tell muva!

imatellmuva profile image

imatellmuva 5 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

kimh039, thank for the reply to my comment! Battling depression is no easy journey, and especially during the time it takes to get to that "Right Fit"!

The close to your reply made my day, and brought tears of laughter to my eyes!! You're wickedly awesome!!!!

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author


healthwriterbob profile image

healthwriterbob 5 years ago from United States

Hi kimh039,

Very well-written hub. Hopefully, new studies will confirm the observation with intravenous scopolamine. Maybe an oral formulation with good efficacy is possible too. Voted up and useful.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

thanks, healthwriterbob. (I like your name, btw) I hope so too. I think much more testing will need to be done on scopolamine and ketamine before it would be approved, but it's a start.....and, my, what impressive credentials you have:)

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 19 months ago from Minnesota

I always love to read about research on updates on meds for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. This drug sounds hopeful, especially since it can reduce depression quicker than the current meds that are used these days. As someone in the mental health field and someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety throughout her life, I thank you for the great information. Voted up, hit many buttons and sharing all over.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 19 months ago Author

Thank you MT:) I also wrote a hub on ketamine as another fast acting anti-depressant. I have been hearing a lot about that in the news recently and have thought about updating that hub. Your comments have encouraged me to do so. Thank you!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article