Ketamine For Pain: Understanding The Pros And Cons

Ketamine For Pain: Understanding The Pros And Cons

Ketamine treatments continue to gain popularity to help treat anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Ketamine for pain treatment is well established within a similar timeframe of the research around ketamine for depression.

The reasoning behind using ketamine for pain stems from its use in the medical field. There, it’s well-known as a strong and efficient analgesic, a complementary drug in perioperative setting, as well as an accessory drug for opioid-resistant pain in palliative care and for intractable chronic noncancer pain.

Studies on using ketamine for cancer treatment is limited. That said, there’s plenty of research that supports its effectiveness in decreasing pain levels after surgery, as well as reducing opioid requirements. One study even found how ketamine has remarkable analgesic benefits for serious surgeries. This supports other available research showing how ketamine effects high or chronic pain levels.

When it comes to chronic pain, ketamine treats syndromes with a neuropathic element as a low dose of this psychedelic seems to reduce inflammation at the most crucial sites.

Also Read: These are the 10 Best Ketamine Clinics in New York City

What Actually Is Pain?

Before delving deeper into understanding how ketamine for pain relief is an option, here’s a breakdown of pain itself.

Pain is literally a signal your nervous system receives that tells him something may be wrong. It shows up as a very uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling in the form of a burn, sting, ache, prick, or a tingle. That feeling may come or go, and it can be located at a specific area of your body, a larger region, or even all over.

When it comes to types of pain, there are two: acute and chronic. Acute pain is sudden, usually a direct consequence of an injury, disease, or inflammation. When treated on time, it goes away. If not treated on time, acute pain can turn into chronic pain. Chronic pain is ongoing and lasts for longer than six months, as pain signals in the nervous system remain active even after the initial cause goes away.

How To Handle Different Types Of Pain

Chronic pain is harder to treat, as it can persist for months, even years. This causes prolonged periods of inflammation and stress to the body, which can yield long-term consequences. Some of these might be physical — like nerve overstimulation, tense muscles, lack of energy, limited mobility, gastrointestinal issues. However, others may be psychological and emotional, like anxiety, fear, depression, and mood swings.

Pain also isn’t always curable, but it’s treatable. In many cases, it’s possible to keep it under control when consistent in using available resources. Things like pain relievers, therapeutic treatments, acupuncture and acupressure, holistic practices, and psychedelics like ketamine can help alleviate pain.

Still, pain is important as it’s a clear sign of something not functioning right in the body. Sometimes, the cause is known (an immediate injury, known illness, or inflammation). However, other times it’s unknown, and it’s important to investigate further to find the root cause as pain.

Ketamine Infusions

As ketamine treatments are becoming more and more popular, the term “ketamine infusions” is leaving many people still uncertain of how they work.

A ketamine infusion is one of two possible ketamine treatment options available at ketamine clinic worldwide. Each treatment usually lasts around 40 minutes and it’s under the strict supervision of the doctor who administers it.

Already known as an efficient treatment against anxiety and depression, ketamine offers patients more than mental health relief. From helping control eating disorders and substance abuse, to stress management and relieving chronic pain.

Pros Of Using Ketamine for Pain

Ketamine administration can be useful when it comes to dealing with pain, and here are some main reasons.

Non-Drug Option

One of the advantages of using ketamine for pain relief is that it’s not a typical medical drug. As a psychedelic and analgesic, it provides help by binding to the NMDA receptors in the brain, which control the strengthening and weakening of the synapses, as well as play an important role in memory and learning.

When ketamine binds to the NMDA receptors, it blocks them. In turn, this increases glutamate, an important amino acid present in almost 90 percent of all brain synapses. This part of the brain is responsible for thousands of functions. This binding is the reason for ketamine’s psychedelic effects on the body — which can cause hallucinations, visual and auditory distortions, disorientation, confusion. However, this is also responsible for relieving and reducing pain levels.

Anxiety And Stress-Reducing

Pain is mostly a physical sensation, but it may strongly affect a person’s mental state as well. Fear of pain and fear of re-experiencing pain is a struggle most people have. This is common even after the initial injury or illness has gone away or has healed.

Since ketamine’s introduction into the psychedelic world, it’s mostly been tool to help deal with anxiety and stress. Consequently, ketamine could help deal with the fear and anxiety caused by experiencing pain. This is especially true in chronic cases, where issues can drag on for months or years.

Fast-Acting Symptom Relief

Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic specifically because of its fast-acting characteristic, causing the symptoms to subside much sooner than any other type of analgesic. This feeling is what helps in relation to pain relief.

Cons Of Using Ketamine For Pain

Now that we’ve explored the pros, it’s time to go over the potential cons of using ketamine for pain. These include the following.

Addictive Potential

Although there’s evidence that shows ketamine can be useful in the treatment of substance abuse, this psychedelic has the potential of developing addiction. And when it comes to relieving pain, it wouldn’t be the first painkilling drug with the risk of addiction.

Since the potential of becoming addicted to ketamine exists, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Similar to other negative addictions, this could cause further issues in multiple areas of their life.

Despite an abundance of ketamine clinics, the FDA has yet to approve or regulate ketamine infusions as a treatment option. Although not illegal, there’s still a risk of getting the wrong dosage.

This is what the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, and American Academy of Pain Medicine tried to tackle by issuing guidelines in 2018 for the use of intravenous ketamine for chronic pain. These are mandatory for all American anesthesiologists administering ketamine for a chronic pain indication.

Unfortunately, despite the aforementioned guidelines, there remain to be issues. Most of these stem from inadequate guidance surrounding optimal dosing and potential risks of with treatment.

Lack Of Research When Using Ketamine For Pain

As with all psychedelics, one of the biggest cons still presents the lack of available research. Despite numerous studies ongoing over the past decade, many are still all in their infancy. Large scale studies are ongoing to explore how the brain reacts to psychedelics. Additionally, research is necessary to understand how ketamine can help alleviate mental and physical issues. So there’s still a question of what the normal dose of ketamine is or should be.

As psychedelics continue gaining trust from medical professionals, steps towards legalization progresses. We’re not there yet, but we do keep getting better insight into the healing potential each day.

Karla Tafra

View all posts by Karla Tafra

Karla is a freelance writer, yoga teacher and nutritionist who's been writing about nutrition, fitness, yoga, mindfulness, and overall health and wellness topics for over seven years. She's written for numerous publications such as Healthline, Livesavvy,, Well + Good, and many others, sharing her love of storytelling and educating. She loves talking about superfoods and another amazing plant powers that people can benefit from if they learn how to use it properly. Her passion lies in helping others not only eat healthier meals but implement good eating habits, find a great relationship with food & achieve a balanced lifestyle. She believes that the only diet and lifestyle that's worth creating is the one you can stick to, so she aims to find what that means for each and every individual. Teaching WHY we eat, and not only WHAT we eat, is the premise of her approach.

Dr. Ben Medrano

This post was medically approved by Dr. Ben Medrano

Dr. Ben Medrano is a board certified psychiatrist specializing in Integrative Psychiatry, Ketamine Assisted Therapy and Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Integration. He received his MD from the University of Colorado School of Medicine with additional training in the Urban Underserved Track (CU-UNITE). Dr. Medrano is most known for his work with ketamine assisted therapy and is the former Senior Vice President and US Medical Director of Field Trip Health - the largest in-office ketamine assisted therapy practice to date. He continues to sponsor Field Trip clinics as a local medical director at multiple sites on the East Coast allowing him to further the field of psychedelic assisted therapy and research.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.