What is ketamine?

Ketamine (Ketalar) is a dissociative anesthetic. Doctors use it to induce general anesthesiaTrusted Source for medical procedures that do not require muscle relaxation.

General anesthesia denotes a sleep-like state, while dissociative refers to the effect of feeling disconnected.

Ketamine can produce hallucinations similarly to other drugs such as LSD and PCP, or angel dust. Hallucinations are distorted perceptions of sounds and sights.

Therapeutic uses

The FDA has approved ketamine for general anesthesia only, but the drug has some off-label uses. Details are below.

Inducing general anesthesia

Doctors use ketamine to induce general anesthesia alone or with other general anesthetics, such as nitrous oxide. They use it in the emergency department setting to produce short-term sedation whenTrusted Source:

reducing fractures
treating joint dislocations
repairing wounds in uncooperative individuals, such as children
Learn more about general anesthesia.

Treating pain

Practitioners use low doses that do not produce dissociation to relieve severe pain from the followingTrusted Source conditions:

abdominal pain
arm or leg pain
low back pain
Learn how to manage chronic pain here.

Treating status epilepticus

Status epilepticus is when a person has a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes or has more than one seizure within 5 minutes.

Refractory status epilepticus (RSE) is a form of status epilepticus that does not respond to standard antiseizure drugs. It is a severe disease that can cause brain damage and death.

A 2015 study found that ketamine may effectively treat RSE. However, further research is necessary to verify the study findings and prove the safety of using ketamine to treat this condition.


Treating depression

Research in 2017Trusted Source notes that some studies indicate ketamine can quickly relieve depression in people who do not respond well to other treatment.

Despite these positive results, the authors warn that data on the use of ketamine for this condition are limited, so practitioners should consider the risks of the drug before prescribing it.

A 2016 studyTrusted Source cautions that the inappropriate use of ketamine is a worldwide health problem due to its hallucinogenic properties. With this in mind, they urge doctors to prescribe standard antidepressants before trying ketamine for depression.

Treating anxiety

Research on the use of ketamine for anxiety is scarce. However, one study suggests that it may help people with social anxiety disorder (SAD). This condition involves a marked fear of social situations.

The 2017 clinical trialTrusted Source tested the drug on 18 participants and concluded that it might effectively treat SAD.

Because several other trials indicate ketamine may have significant antianxiety effects, the authors encouraged future studies to explore this possible benefit more fully.



The most commonTrusted Source side effects of ketamine at prescribed doses include:

double vision
feeling of unease
Ketamine can also produce an extensive array of other symptoms that affect many parts of the body, but they are less common.



Evidence shows that ketamine is safe for use in people within a wide age rangeTrusted Source when taken correctly.

However, ketamine is only safe when a person takes the drug their doctor has prescribed for a specific purpose.

Despite the general safety, ketamine has the following risks:

Instability of heart and blood vessel function: This may include a temporary increase in blood pressure and heart rate or a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. Abnormal heart rhythms may also occur.
Respiratory depression: This can happen in an overdosage or if the rate of administration is rapid.
Emergence reactions: Such reactions include agitation or confusion within the postoperative recovery period.
Increase in intracranial pressure: Due to this effect, practitioners should closely monitor anyone who has high intracranial pressure.
Liver injury: The administration of ketamine may cause liver dysfunction.
Cognitive, or thinking, deficits: Some research reports that these effects occur in children.
Doctors do not recommend ketamine for people of any age who have conditions in which high blood pressure could lead to:

uncontrolled high blood pressure
heart attack
aortic tear
The drug is also not suitable for individuals with schizophrenia or who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Learn more about respiratory depression here.

Coming down

The day after taking ketamine, a person may experience the following:

aches and pains
impaired judgment

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