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What Is Ketamine Used For Medically?

What Is Ketamine Used For Medically?

Ketamine – an abbreviated history

Over the past two decades, ketamine has gone from a general anesthetic to a promising alternative for mood and pain disorder treatments. This safe but powerful drug, first used as a sedative on the battlefield in the Vietnam War, has become an invaluable resource for various physical and mental issues, known both for its transformative power and speedy results.

Traditional medications like antidepressants can take months to start working, and are ineffective in treating an estimated two-thirds of the population. Ketamine therapy, on the other hand, offers patients relief quickly, with some individuals reporting less severe symptoms within a few hours of their first infusion session

How is ketamine used medically?


It’s been well-documented that ketamine’s first use was for anesthesia. Since it was synthesized, the medicine also has been used as a powerful sedative in both surgical and non-surgical settings. The United States Defense Health Board says that morphine is losing its status as the preferred anesthetic in “Tactical Combat Casualty Care pain management” and advises ketamine as a new option for battlefield analgesia.


“Ketamine has been widely used to provide analgesia in burn dressing changes, during excision and grafting, and for sedation. It has a major role in repeated anesthetics for burns dressings. The major advantage of ketamine in burns is that, unlike other agents, it usually preserves airway and spontaneous respiratory function in addition to providing good sedoanalgesia.”

Acute Pain Management

Many doctors have started recommending ketamine to manage acute pain. Acute pain is a type of localized pain, has a specific cause, and goes away relatively quickly on its own as your body heals. But in some cases, particularly after surgery, you may need help managing acute pain.

Opioids are often the go-to choice for acute postoperative pain. “Unfortunately, tolerance from opioids can result in increased analgesic requirements. However, ketamine can block these mechanisms; when administered at sub-anesthetic and repeated doses, ketamine has been known to prevent the development of increased pain sensitivity and opioid tolerance.”

Chronic Pain Management

“While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years.”

Of course, the odd thing about chronic pain is you don’t necessarily remember when it began or what caused it. You may have had hip replacement surgery a decade ago, but even though your doctor says nothing is physically wrong, the pain continues. Or you may have realized that you have lower back pain, even though you’ve never had an injury or illness that would contribute to such pain.

In this case, a doctor may recommend ketamine to reduce the symptoms and discomfort in the affected area of your body. Ketamine may be prescribed to help manage chronic pain, which several conditions could cause.

  • Sprained muscles
  • Broken bones
  • A back injury
  • Injury following a surgical procedure
  • Arthritis
  • An ear infection
  • Cancer
  • Neurogenic pain, or pain caused by nerve damage
  • Psychogenic pain (pain not caused by previous injury or disease or any apparent sign of harm outside or inside the nervous system)

Ketamine for adolescents?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than three million adolescents between 12- and 17-years old experience symptoms of depression every year. In a 2019 study by Pew Research Center, 70 percent of teenagers called depression and anxiety a “major problem” for “them and their peers.”

Ketamine used successfully to treat teenagers suffering from depression since 2019 is safe for adolescents. The U.S. National Institutes of Health report was cautiously optimistic for its use with teenagers: “Ketamine was shown in youth to generally improve depressive symptoms, decrease acute suicidality, and reduce mood lability, though several subjects remained resistant to its treatment. These findings substantiate the need for further longitudinal studies investigating ketamine’s long-term safety, its efficacy, and abuse potential in the youth.”

A doctor specializing in pediatric psychiatry is best capable of assessing your child’s condition and treatment options.

Final thoughts

There is still much to be understood about how exactly ketamine works on the brain. The current research points to ketamine’s effect on glutamate, a neurotransmitter associated with memory, learning, and mood regulation found throughout the central nervous system. Most current research shows ketamine has an excitatory effect on glutamate. The heightened glutamate activity allows new pathways to form. These new formations correlate with reduced stress, an increased ability to process information, and improved mood regulation.

Research in the last two decades has shown that ketamine is a powerful new tool for treating mood disorders or pain conditions. Up to 70% of patients may find relief from the symptoms of depression after a series of IV ketamine infusions.

Contact us today to learn more about this innovative treatment option.

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