Ketamine is a medication primarily used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. It induces dissociative anesthesia, a trance-like state providing pain relief, sedation, and amnesia. The distinguishing features of ketamine anesthesia are preserved breathing and airway reflexes, stimulated heart function with increased blood pressure, and moderate bronchodilation. At lower, sub-anesthetic doses, ketamine is a promising agent for pain and treatment-resistant depression. However, the antidepressant action of a single administration of ketamine wanes with time, and the effects of repeated use have not been sufficiently studied.
Psychiatric side effects are frequent as well as raised blood pressure and nausea. Liver and urinary toxicity are common among regular users of high doses of ketamine for recreational purposes. Ketamine is an NMDA receptor antagonist, and that accounts for most of its actions except the anti-depressive effect, the mechanism of which is a matter of much research and debate.
Medical Uses of Ketamine
- Anesthesia: The use of ketamine in anesthesia reflects its characteristics. It is a drug of choice for short-term procedures when muscle relaxation is not required. The effect of ketamine on the respiratory and circulatory systems is different from that of other anesthetics. It suppresses breathing much less than most other available anesthetics. When used at anesthetic doses, ketamine usually stimulates rather than depresses the circulatory system. Protective airway reflexes are preserved, and it is sometimes possible to administer ketamine anesthesia without protective measures to the airways. Psychotomimetic effects limit the acceptance of ketamine; however, they can be counteracted by administering benzodiazepines or propofol
- Pain:Ketamine infusions are used for acute pain treatment in emergency departments and in the perioperative period in individuals with refractory pain. The doses are lower than those used for anesthesia; they are usually referred to as sub-anesthetic doses. Adjunctive to morphine or on its own, ketamine reduces morphine use, pain level, nausea, and vomiting after surgery. Ketamine is likely to be most beneficial for surgical patients when severe post-operative pain is expected and for opioid-tolerant patients.Ketamine is especially useful in the prehospital setting, due to its effectiveness and low risk of respiratory depression. Ketamine has similar efficacy to opioids in a hospital emergency department setting for management of acute pain and for control of procedural pain. It may also prevent opioid-induced hyperalgesia and postanesthetic shivering.
- Depression: Ketamine is a robust and rapid-acting antidepressant, albeit its effect is transient. Intravenous ketamine infusion in treatment resistant depression results in improved mood within 4 hours reaching the peak at 24 hours. The effect is diminished at 7 days, and most patients relapse within 10 days, although for a significant minority the improvement may last 30 days and longer. The main challenge with ketamine treatment is what to do when the anti-depressive action expires. The maintenance therapy with ketamine (from twice a week to once in two weeks) appears to be a promising option, although the evidence to firmly recommend it is insufficient. Ketamine may also decrease suicidal thoughts for up to three days after the injection. Ketamine may be effective for bipolar depression, but the data on its use is scarce
- Seizures: Ketamine is sometimes used in the treatment of status epilepticus that has failed to adequately respond to standard treatments, although only limited evidence (case studies and no randomized controlled trials) exists in its favor
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