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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.

James T. Leathem, DO

Dr. James Leathem is a board-certified anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. He was born and raised in Connecticut and graduated from Florida Southern College with a bachelor of science in marketing management with minors in sociology and communications. He obtained his medical degree from Midwestern University’s Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency in anesthesiology at Michigan State University and its affiliated McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital.

In 2015, after residency, Dr. Leathem returned to Arizona to practice anesthesiology. He joined Red Mountain Anesthesiologists and worked primarily at Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa, performing 100% of his own cases. He was made partner in the group after demonstrating 3 years of anesthesia excellence and administering over 4,000 anesthetics. In 2019, a corporate change occurred and an opportunity presented itself in which he was able to transition out of the hospital to surgery center and clinic-based anesthesia.

Dr. Leathem realizes that the only constant in life is change. In 2020, amidst the global pandemic, his career took a different direction. This change led him to collaborate with Dr. Wong and Dr. Sharma and they founded Advanced Wellness and Pain (AWAP). Their mission is to provide a variety of state-of-the-art procedural services that improve patients’ quality of life and overall physical and mental well-being.

Dr. Leathem believes that we are all a work in progress and that each day, one should strive to make positive changes in their life. He is here to help empower each patient on their journey to be their best self and live their best life. When you are being cared for by Dr. Leathem, you can be assured that he will give you his undivided attention and time.

Gregory Wong, MD

Dr. Wong is a Board-Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of both the American Society of Anesthesiology and the Arizona Society of Anesthesiology. He did his undergraduate training at the University of California at Davis, Davis, California; doctorate training at The University of Health Sciences of the Chicago Medical School, North Chicago, IL; and his post-doctoral training at the Integrated Program at the University of Arizona, Phoenix, AZ. He has spent his whole 24-year career practicing in Arizona.

Dr. Wong grew up in the Bay Area of California. He is married and is raising three daughters. At the early age of 12 years old, he knew he wanted to become a physician. His love of the human spirit, intrigue of human physiology, and compassion for human suffering led him to the path of anesthesiology and pain medicine.

Today, Dr. Wong realizes patients need a holistic biophysical-mental-spiritual care. This philosophy has brought him to the studies of regenerative medicine and infusion therapies. He has firsthandily witnessed the overwhelming success of these therapies for treating chronic pain and depression and the return of patients of “life-functionality.”

“There has never been a time more important than now to advocate for our patients in these difficult times. We owe it to our patients to offer these state-of-the-art treatment modalities that weren’t available before.”

Deepak Sharma, MD, MBA

Dr. Sharma is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. He completed three degrees at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA: a Bachelor in Finance, a Master in Business Administration, and a Doctor of Medicine. He went on to complete residency at the Mount Sinai Morningside-West Hospital System in New York, NY and post-graduate fellowship at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA.

Dr. Sharma is committed to treating his patients as a whole with a comprehensive biophysical-mental-spiritual approach. He is a lifelong learner and is constantly researching cutting-edge therapies backed by scientific studies. He has taken a particular interest in regenerative and infusion therapies after witnessing firsthand their significant benefits on those suffering from chronic pain and depression. In his free time, Dr. Sharma enjoys spending time with his family and friends, hiking, traveling, reading, and meditation.

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