Is Ketamine a Horse Tranquilizer?

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Depending on how it is used, ketamine can be either a beneficial medication or a dangerous recreational substance. But where did this drug originate – and are the rumors about it true? For example, is ketamine a horse tranquilizer?

Is Ketamine a Horse Tranquilizer?

Let’s address this question right out of the gate: Is ketamine a horse tranquilizer? 

Yes, it is. But that is by no means all it is.

Here are the facts:

  • Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic that can be used to prepare both humans and animals for certain procedures, and to alleviate pain.
  • Veterinarians who work with horses and other large animals have used ketamine for these purposes.


In other words, sedating horses is one of many medical and veterinary uses for ketamine. So, while the answer to the question, “Is ketamine a horse tranquilizer?” is yes, referring to it solely by this descriptor is misleading.

Why, then, do so many articles reference ketamine’s use as a horse medication when discussing this drug? While we can’t speak for every writer who has done this, the most common answer may be that it catches readers’ attention. 

For example, as we will discuss in more detail later in this post, ketamine has shown great promise as a depression medication. Many people whose depression symptoms didn’t respond to traditional medications have made great improvements after being treated with ketamine. 

Here are two possible headlines for an article about research on ketamine and depression:

  1. Researchers explore new use for anesthetic
  2. Horse tranquilizer may help people with depression


Which one do you think would likely generate the most clicks? If you chose the second one, you understand why so many online discussions of this medication highlight its use in large animal medicine.

History of Ketamine

Chemist Calvin Stevens first synthesized ketamine in 1962 while trying to develop a more palatable version of phencyclidine. Phencyclidine, which had been created six years earlier, showed promise as an anesthetic, but many patients who were given the drug experienced extended periods of delirium after coming out of their sedated state.

Human testing on ketamine began in 1964, and the first study on its safety and effectiveness as an anesthetic was published in 1966. In 1970, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized ketamine to be used as an anesthetic for human patients. 

Following ketamine’s approval by the FDA, the U.S. military began to make widespread use of the drug as a battlefield anesthetic for wounded soldiers in Vietnam. During this period, some clinical researchers began to investigate ketamine’s suitability as a mental health medication. 

However, as recreational abuse of the drug became more popular and more effective anesthetics were developed, ketamine use by medical and clinical professionals in the United States started to decline. 

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, ketamine use in medical procedures declined. But as the turn of the century approached, use of the medication began to increase. At the same time, research on ketamine’s mental health benefits also started to ramp up. 

In March 2019 – about 55 years after Calvin Stevens first synthesized ketamine – the FDA approved a nasal spray called Spravato for use with patients who have treatment-resistant depression. Spravato contains esketamine, which is a variant of ketamine.

What Are the Current Uses for Ketamine?

Today, ketamine is used by veterinarians, medical doctors, and mental health professionals in the U.S. and in many other nations.

Veterinarians mainly use ketamine a preoperative anesthetic and as a painkiller. The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) describes ketamine as “an essential anesthetic for large and small domestic animals, common and exotic pets, horses, laboratory animals including primates, wildlife, and zoo animals.”

Medical professionals who work with human patients continue to use ketamine for several purposes, including:

  • Anesthetizing patients prior to and during surgery
  • Easing acute pre- and postoperative pain
  • Minimizing pain among patients who have had severe injuries such as broken bones or burns
  • Maintaining cardiovascular stability and respiratory reflexes among patients who are in shock and need frequent resuscitation
  • Sedating pediatric patients prior to certain emergency procedures
  • Managing chronic pain related to several causes, including cancer, nerve damage, fibromyalgia, and amputations


Over the past few decades, the most notable developments in ketamine use have occurred in the mental health field.

As we noted earlier, esketamine is an FDA-approved medication for people who have what clinicians refer to as treatment-resistant depression, or TRD. Most experts consider a person to have TRD if they have tried at least two different antidepressants, but have not experienced symptom relief.

Some professionals have also begun to use ketamine to treat a variety of other mental and behavioral health concerns, including:


Researchers continue to study the potential mental health benefits of ketamine, which suggests that this list may change over the coming years as additional data is collected.

Learn More About Ketamine at Conscious Health

If you are interested in receiving ketamine therapy for anxiety, depression, PTSD, or another mental health concern, Conscious Health may have the services you are seeking.

Our dynamic approach to treatment incorporates a variety of innovative, evidence-based therapies and services, including both esketamine and ketamine. We will work closely with you to assess the full scope of your needs, then develop a customized treatment plan that will best prepare you for a healthier and more satisfying future.

To learn more about ketamine therapy and other aspects of our programming, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.

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