Ketamine is increasingly being prescribed to treat pain, despite a concern among some experts over its safety and risk of being intentionally misused, the Associated Press reports.
Ketamine was approved more than 50 years ago as an anesthetic for patients undergoing surgery. It became a popular club drug in the 1990s, because at lower doses it can produce psychedelic, out-of-body experiences. Patients using ketamine to treat pain are increasingly experiencing those same effects, the article notes.
Prescriptions for ketamine are on the rise, driven by for-profit clinics and telehealth services offering it as treatment for pain, depression, anxiety and other conditions. It can be purchased inexpensively, and can be prescribed by most doctors and some nurses, regardless of their training.
There is limited research on ketamine’s effectiveness as a pain treatment. Dr. Padma Gulur, a Duke University pain specialist, studied 300 patients receiving ketamine. More than one-third reported significant side effects that required professional attention. These included hallucinations, troubling thoughts and visual disturbances. Gulur found ketamine did not result in lower rates of opioid prescribing in the months following treatment, a common goal of therapy.