Wadham hosts £500-a-head ketamine conference

Academics and NHS employees discussed the drug's antidepressant effects

Wadham's front quad, with directions for conference attendees (Photo: @mehta_mitul72/Twitter)

Wadham College played host to a £500-a-head ketamine conference last week.

The conference saw experts on the Class B party drug speak on their “cutting-edge clinical research and practice”, and its possible antidepressant effects.

24 speakers appeared at the conference between Wednesday and Friday, and attendees enjoyed dinner in Wadham’s 400-year-old hall on Thursday night.

Wadham has long held a reputation for both its liberalism and its ties with experimental science. In the 1650s, it regularly played host to meetings between Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke. The trio went on to found the Royal Society.

In 2014, Dr Andrew Farmery – a tutor in medicine and physiology at the college – attracted national attention for his research, which explored the possibility of using intravenous infusions of ketamine to help combat treatment-resistant depression.

The conference cost £350 to attend for academics and those working in NHS, or £500 for non-academics. The prices cover attendance, as well as two nights of accommodation at Wadham, lunches, teas and coffees, and conference material – but no ketamine, Cherwell understands.

Thursday night’s dinner cost guests a further £40.

According to the conference’s website, the discovery of ketamine’s potential antidepressant effects “is the most important advance in psychopharmacology in 50 years.

It claims: “Clinical adoption in the US has been rapid, with over 100 clinics established in the last two years. Clinical experience has moved ahead of research – an unusual situation which creates opportunities as well as risks.”

A second-year Wadham student told Cherwell: “I’m a bit annoyed that the college turfs out students over the vac to hold ket conferences.

“But then again, I’m probably just jealous I wasn’t invited.”

Ketamine – which is known for giving its users dreamlike, floaty feelings, is banned for recreational use in the UK, but is currently a licensed drug, which means it can be prescribed by doctors.

Last April, Oxford University research suggested that ketamine could be used as a last-resort method to treat clinical depression.

A month later, students at Exeter College were warned by a junior dean against posting about their use of the drug on social media.

In an email to all undergraduates, Michelle Hufschmidt said: “Exeter students have alleged to ketamine use [sic] on public Facebook groups.

“This means your comments can be seen by anyone, including your friends, tutors, and fellows of the College. It can also be seen by future employers, which is especially important for those studying law or medicine.”

A spokesperson for the conference said: “Clinical trials over the last 15 years have shown that very small doses of ketamine given under strict clinical supervision can be an effective treatment for some patients with treatment-resistant depression, which does not otherwise respond to more commonly used treatments.

“As with other academic meetings, the conference in Oxford resulted in fruitful discussion and an exchange of ideas about research on the broad topic of treatments for depression.

“It should be emphasised that the treatment uses very small (milligram) doses of ketamine, far lower than those used when ketamine is used as a drug of abuse, and this treatment is closely supervised by clinical professionals.”