Ketamine is a medication used primarily as an anesthetic. Some early evidence also suggests that it may have the potential for treating a variety of other health conditions, although these uses have not been fully approved yet. Read on to learn more about the medical uses of and new research about this drug.
Disclaimer : This post is not an endorsement or recommendation for the use of ketamine under any circumstances, except when prescribed and used under supervision by a qualified medical professional. We have written this post for informational purposes only, and our goal is solely to educate people about the potential medical uses of ketamine, as well as the science behind its effects and mechanisms.
Ketamine – sometimes also known as Ketalar or Ketaject – is a drug that initiates and maintains anesthesia [ 1 ].
The original compound was first discovered in the early 1960s and was approved for use in the United States in 1970. Now it is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the safest and most essential drugs in the healthcare system [ 2 ].
Ketamine is considered a Schedule III controlled substance by the FDA, which means that it requires a written, oral, or electronic prescription to legally buy or possess the drug [ 3 ].
Ketamine is also classified as a “ dissociative ” drug, which means that it alters the senses, leading to hallucinations and feelings of detachment from the environment and oneself [ 1 ].
Unfortunately, these dissociative effects are why some people abuse ketamine for recreational purposes – even in spite of the many risks and dangers that are associated with ketamine abuse. For this reason, ketamine has a significant and well-documented potential for abuse and addiction [ 4 , 5 ].
Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that was discovered in the 1960s. It is a schedule III controlled substance, meaning that it requires a doctor’s prescription to legally buy or possess it.
Like any drug, ketamine has a number of potential adverse side-effects that are important to be aware of. To learn about the side effects, drug interactions, and other potential dangers of ketamine, check out this post .
Ketamine has a number of accepted medical uses for treating certain specific medical conditions and situations. Although this means that the evidence for its efficacy in these conditions is relatively solid, always keep in mind that this is a federally-controlled prescription medication that must only be used under the direction and supervision of a qualified medical professional.
Additionally, none of these medical uses should be interpreted as general “benefits” for health! For all of the cases described below, any reported medical benefits only apply to contexts in which ketamine is being administered by qualified medical professionals in a controlled setting. There is no reason to expect any beneficial or therapeutic effects if ketamine is abused recreationally or taken outside of a conventional medical setting.
In medical settings, ketamine is most commonly used as an anesthetic (i.e. to make people unconscious during medical procedures). It is officially approved for this purpose by the FDA and is widely used both by itself and in combination with other anesthetic drugs [ 3 ].
Ketamine is also sometimes used – usually at lower doses – as a fast-acting sedative [ 3 ].
For example, when ketamine was administered intravenously in 30 children, all patients experienced sedation within 2 minutes [ 6 ].
In another study of 431 children, ketamine was administered through the muscles. In this study, 98% of patients experienced rapid sedation [ 7 ].
In a medical setting, ketamine is most often used as an anesthetic. It may also be used as a fast-acting sedative. Off-Label Medical Uses of Ketamine
Occasionally, doctors will prescribe medications to help treat conditions that fall outside of the official uses approved by the FDA – also known as “ off-label ” drug use [ 8 ]. Usually, this is done because there is actually decent evidence that the drug may help, although this evidence might not be quite strong enough to get full FDA approval (which generally has very strict requirements).
As always, however, always remember that the decision to use medications in this way can only be made by a licensed medical professional.
In addition to its official use as an anesthetic, ketamine also has a number of effects that can significantly reduce the perception of pain (i.e. an analgesic effect). Because of this, it is frequently used by doctors – albeit “unofficially” – to help control and manage pain. In this context, ketamine can be used either by itself or in combination with other pain-killing drugs [ 3 ].
For example, when administered by doctors, ketamine may potentially aid in reducing chronic pain . In a study of 12 male volunteers, low doses of ketamine were reported to activate portions of the brain that are believed to be involved in the inhibition of pain (such as the prefrontal cortex and certain areas of the brainstem) [ 9 ].
In one 11-week double-blind randomized controlled trial of 60 female patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a steady 100-hour intravenous infusion of ketamine was reported to significantly relieve pain. This effect was even reported to last up to 3 months following treatment [ 10 ].
Additionally, a study of 12 cancer patients with severe cancer pain reported that patients required 50% less morphine to reduce their pain after prolonged use of ketamine [ 11 ].
Ketamine also reportedly enhanced the effectiveness of spinal cord (“ intrathecal ”) injections of morphine treatment in a double-blind randomized control trial in 20 cancer pain patients [ 12 ].
Some preliminary evidence suggests that ketamine may also be especially effective at reducing pain when combined with certain other medications. For example, a combination of ketamine and a local anesthetic ( bupivacaine ) reduced post-operative pain in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial of 53 amputee patients [ 13 ].
When used as a local anesthetic with diazepam (a benzodiazepine), meperidine (also known as Demerol – a narcotic pain-killer medication), and nitrous oxide , […]