Ketamine does not work quite like other pain-killing drugs. While it is used in a similar capacity as opioids, its mechanism is completely different, and that’s what has allowed ketamine infusion therapy to potentially offer a breakthrough in the world of pain management, especially in the face of the ongoing opioid crisis.
Ketamine is an anesthetic, used for purposes of sedation, and in some cases, it can be used for the treatment of pain and, additionally, it is being researched as a potential drug against depression as well.
Over 11% of the US adult population suffers from chronic pain, while more than 6% of Americans have struggled with a major depressive episodes, the symptoms of which include a much higher risk of self-harm, an inability to feel joy, and suicidal thinking. These issues are gaining prevalence in everyday conversation, and the numbers of people struggling with pain and low mood are rising, making ketamine a highly interesting and extremely important drug for the near future.
How Ketamine Infusion Therapy Works
Usually, ketamine induces a trance-like state with psychotropic effects (hallucination, at certain doses). Because of this, ketamine is also used in anesthesiology (sedation), and to induce memory loss. It’s valuable because it slows down the functions of the brain while maintaining your ability to breathe and maintain a steady heart beat without inhibition. But when administered intravenously at low doses, it boosts the effects of receptors that potentially lower depressive symptoms, while working against receptors that are known to increase pain sensitivity and are associated with certain causes of chronic pain.
Just as how opioids block the transmission of pain signals in the brain, and anti-inflammatory drugs block the effects of certain enzymes that are indirectly responsible for kickstarting inflammation, ketamine blocks and resets pain signals by blocking certain receptors in peripheral nerves, thereby helping patients with chronic pain.
Benefits of Ketamine Therapy Against Pain & Depression
Ketamine infusion can successfully reduce acute and chronic pain and is most likely to be prescribed in cases where opioid usage is not recommended, perhaps because the patient does not handle opioids well (due to dependence or tolerance issues). While ketamine infusion is primarily recommended to treat pain after surgery, and to prevent the onset of chronic pain after treating and injury, it can also be an effective tool in the greater arsenal of a doctor’s pain management repertoire, or as part of a single patient’s multimodal treatment against chronic pain.
Although at first glance the effects of ketamine on depressive symptoms might seem irrelevant in cases of chronic pain, there is a large amount of correlation between sufferers of chronic pain and depression, and when pain leads to depression, a feedback loop is started wherein higher levels of depression cause higher levels of pain, due to increased sensitivity and susceptibility to pain and low mood.
The relationship between depression and chronic pain is powerful and life-threatening, because it can rob an individual of every shred of quality-of-life. Making an impact on both issues through one treatment is a rare and very important trait for ketamine.
The Rush to Replace Opioids
The US’s current opioid crisis has quickly given way to ketamine as an effective analgesics as healthcare providers scramble to offer a better way to deal with acute and chronic pain without the use of prescription opioids, or as a way to reduce opioid usage among patients who need powerful medical help.
Opioids present a great risk for dependence, and a large increase of heroin and prescription opioid overdoses can be traced back to a big push by pharmaceutical lobbies and companies to market and sell painkillers. In an effort to cut back on addiction rates and combat the increase in painkiller- and heroin-induced deaths, opioid prescriptions have been reigned in significantly. Since then, pain management without the use of opioids has been a priority for many doctors and clinics specializing in chronic pain, pain relief, and pain management. Ketamine may be an answer for many patients struggling with pain.
Ketamine as an Alternative to Opioids
Although ketamine can be used as an alternative to opioids for analgesic purposes, it also possesses a risk for dependence. Ketamine infusion therapy can effectively be used to manage chronic pain in certain cases, but the usage of ketamine is still meant to be taken seriously, and strictly as per a doctor’s orders. Recreational use of ketamine or in any other way deviating from prescribed usage may be a sign that a person is beginning to rely on the drug too much.
If that is kept in check, ketamine infusion can be a great medical alternative to treating chronic pain with opioids. It is important to combine ketamine infusion with other pain management tools, as per a patient’s circumstances and details.
Is Ketamine Right for You?
Ketamine does not come without risks. It’s still a procedure that warrants observation and caution, due to the risk of certain psychotropic side-effects (possible hallucinations) and substance dependence. In cases where individuals struggle with severe chronic pain and prolonged symptoms of depression – including signs of self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts – ketamine treatment can potentially be a life-saver.
Testimonials of the drug are often very positive, while reviews and studies can be quite mixed. It’s not a treatment that is prescribed on a whim, and doctors do well to thoroughly examine a patient’s case before offering ketamine as a solution.
The guidelines on using ketamine for acute pain in particular mention that ketamine infusion is best administered to patients about to undergo painful surgery, and that it may be effective for reducing the usage of opioids in patients who are opioid-dependent, as well as providing a feasible alternative for patients who are opioid-tolerant. While it does have a few drawbacks, it is important to note that ketamine is an effective treatment tool.
If you wish to know if ketamine infusion is the right treatment plan for you, or would fit well into your current treatment, contact a pain relief and management clinic and get a thorough and professional opinion.