What Exactly is Ketamine?

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What Exactly is Ketamine?

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding ketamine and its use in treatment resistant depression. Before ketamine was studied for depression and other mood disorders, it was popularized in the 1970s for its use in surgical patients.

Ketamine belongs to a class of medications called dissociative anesthetics. Anesthetics are medications used to eliminate pain during medical procedures. Ketamine does this by blocking NMDA receptors in the brain. NMDA (or N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors are responsible for the perception of pain through nerves in tissue.

Up until the introduction of Ketamine, anesthetics allowed for medical treatment without feeling pain because patients were put to sleep (general anesthesia). Ketamine was unique because it allowed patients to not have to be put to sleep but still not feel pain during their procedure. It also induces amnesia during its use, so patients have no memory of procedures. 

By dissociating (or disconnecting/detaching) the mind from the body, reflexes like breathing are maintained while the mind does not perceive pain. Since patients do not have to be put to sleep with Ketamine, they are able to breathe on their own during procedures. By preserving respiratory function, patients do not need to be intubated thereby eliminating a lot of the risks associated with inserting an airway such as failed intubation, low oxygen levels and dental/vocal cord injuries. 

Ketamine was also effective because of its short half life, meaning it does not last very long in the body. This was a game changer for shorter procedures that now did not have to include the risk of inserting a breathing tube and going under general anesthesia. Also, a short half life means that if a patient does need respiratory support, it can be given noninvasively with supplemental oxygen until the medication quickly leaves their system. This contributes to Ketamine’s excellent safety profile. 

For all of these reasons, Ketamine also gained popularity in veterinary as well as emergency medical services. Now ketamine is even being used in pre-hospital settings with EMS workers given its quick onset of action, sedating effects and overall strong safety profile.

Learn more about how we incorporate Ketamine in our practice here at Quench Wellness!