Ketamine is a medication that is used to induce loss of consciousness, or anesthesia. It can produce relaxation and relieve pain in humans and animals.
It is a class III scheduled drug and is approved for use in hospitals and other medical settings as an anesthetic.
However, it is also a commonly abused “recreational” drug, due to its hallucinogenic, tranquilizing and dissociative effects.
Controversy has arisen about using ketamine “off-label” to treat depression. Off-label uses of drugs are uses that are not approved by the the United States, (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Ketamine is safe to use in controlled, medical practice, but it has abuse potential. Used outside the approved limits, its adverse mental and physical health effects can be hazardous. Prolonged use can lead to tolerance and psychological addiction.
Fast facts on ketamine:
Ketamine is similar in structure to phencyclidine (PCP), and it causes a trance-like state and a sense of disconnection from the environment.
It is the most widely used anesthetic in veterinary medicine and is used for some surgical procedures in humans.
It is considered a “club drug,” like ecstasy, and it has been abused as a date-rape drug.
Ketamine should only be used as prescribed by a doctor.
What is ketamine?
Ketamine belongs to a class of drugs known as dissociative anesthetics. It is also known as Ketalar, Ketanest, and Ketaset.
Other drugs in this category include the hallucinogen, phencyclidine (PCP), dextromethorphan (DXM), and nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.
These types of drugs can make a person feel detached from sensations and surroundings, as if they are floating outside their body.
Ketamine is most often used in veterinary medicine. In humans, it can induce and maintain general anesthesia before, during, and after surgery.
For medical purposes, ketamine is either injected into a muscle or given through an intravenous (IV) line.
It is considered safe as an anesthetic, because it does not reduce blood pressure or lower the breathing rate.
The fact that it does not need an electricity supply, oxygen, or highly trained staff makes it a suitable option in less wealthy countries and in disaster zones.
In human medical practice, it is used in procedures such as:
diagnostic procedures on the eye, ear, nose, and throat
minor surgical interventions, such as dental extractions
It has been used in a hospital setting to control seizures in patients with status epilepticus (SE), a type of epilepsy that can lead to brain damage and death. However, researchers point out that ketamine is normally used for this purpose after 5 to 6 other options have proven ineffective.
It is also an analgesic, and, in lower doses, it can relieve pain.
In 2014, researchers found that a ketamine infusion significantly reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 41 patients who had undergone a range of traumas.
Researchers are looking into other possible medical uses of ketamine, particularly in the areas of treatment-resistant depression, suicide prevention, and substance use disorders. However, this use is controversial.
Ketamine use can have a wide variety of adverse effects, including:
changes in perceptions of color or sound
hallucinations, confusion, and delirium
dissociation from body or identity
difficulty thinking or learning
dilated pupils and changes in eyesight
inability to control eye movements
involuntary muscle movements and muscle stiffness
slow heart beat
increased pressure in the eyes and brain
It can also lead to a loss of appetite, upset stomach, and vomiting.
When used as an anesthetic in humans, doctors combine it with another drug to prevent hallucinations.