Understanding Ketamine for Pain Relief

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Doctors have been using ketamine as an anesthetic for decades. Recently, some healthcare providers have begun to use this medication to help patients who have been experiencing pain. This has prompted many questions, such as: Is ketamine pain relief safe, does it pose a risk of side effects, and how long does ketamine pain relief last? 

Does Ketamine Relieve Pain?

Ketamine is classified as a dissociative anesthetic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially approved this medication in 1970 for use in medical procedures. At first, it was primarily used by the U.S. military in Vietnam to prepare service members who were about to undergo surgery.

Ketamine is effective as a surgical medication because its effects include sedation, temporary memory loss, and pain relief.

All decisions regarding an individual’s suitability for ketamine pain relief should be based on a thorough assessment of their treatment history and current health. In general, though, ketamine can help people who have been living with the following types of pain:

  • Acute pain, which is defined as intense but temporary discomfort, such as what a person might experience after surgery or as the result of a car accident
  • Chronic pain, which refers to persistent, enduring pain that lasts for an extended period (such as months or years), often as a result of a medical condition
  • Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, which can result from injuries, medical conditions such as shingles or diabetes, or cancer treatment

How So?

Ketamine is a noncompetitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist. NMDA receptors play an important role in the delivery of pain signals throughout the central nervous system (CNS). 

Ketamine pain relief results from the medication’s ability to prevent glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) from attaching to NMDA receptors. This inhibits neurons in the CNS from receiving and then transmitting pain signals, which diminishes a person’s capacity for sensing pain.

Please note that ketamine pain relief can ease a person’s suffering, but it will not cure them or address the underlying cause of that pain.

How Long Does Ketamine Pain Relief Last?

When ketamine is used for pain relief in a non-surgical setting, the medication is usually administered via controlled intravenous infusion. 

A typical infusion session lasts about 40 minutes, though some sessions can last much longer. For example, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center reports that infusion sessions for cancer patients who receive ketamine to treat nerve pain can last four to six hours.

In addition to knowing how long sessions can take, it can also be extremely valuable to understand how long does ketamine pain relief last. The answer to this question can also vary, depending on influences such as how much ketamine they received and how many sessions they have participated in.

  • For patients who take part in one 40-minute infusion session, ketamine pain relief can last from a few days to a few weeks, but rarely longer than a month.
  • Patients who take part in multiple 40-minute infusion sessions may experience continued pain relief for a period of a few weeks to a few months.
  • Cancer patients who receive extended ketamine infusions (such as those who participate in sessions of up to six hours) may have a month of reduced pain.  

How Often Do You Have to Get Ketamine Treatment for Treating Pain?

As we noted in the previous section, the duration of ketamine pain relief can be contingent on the number of infusions that a patient receives, as well as how much ketamine is provided in each session. 

Patients who are being treated for chronic pain often participate in four to six sessions over a period of a few weeks.

Cancer patients who are being treated for nerve pain may receive monthly ketamine infusions.

What Are the Side Effects of Ketamine for Pain Relief?

While ketamine infusion treatment can be a source of considerable relief for some pain patients, it is important to be aware of the various side effects that this medication can cause.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, ketamine infusion patients may be at risk of both mild and more severe side effects

The list of relatively mild side effects includes the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diminished appetite
  • Pain or irritation at injection site

Here are examples of some of the more severe potential side effects of ketamine infusions:

  • Elevated or irregular heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • Facial swelling
  • Breathing problems
  • Liver damage
  • Hallucinations

Following a ketamine session, you will usually be required to remain under observation for an hour or so to ensure that you don’t have a bad reaction to the medication. 

When you receive ketamine infusions from a qualified, reputable healthcare provider, your risk of serious side effects is minimized. Of course, if you experience any of the effects listed above (or any other physical or mental health problems) after receiving ketamine, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Learn How Conscious Health Uses Ketamine Therapy

If you would like to learn more about ketamine therapy in Los Angeles, California, Conscious Health can provide you with the information you are seeking.

At our mental health treatment center in LA’s Larchmont neighborhood, patients may receive ketamine therapy and a dynamic array of other innovative services, such as neurofeedback therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy, vibroacoustic therapy, and electromagnetic brain pulse (EMBP) therapy.

For additional details about ketamine therapy or any other aspect of our programming, or to schedule a free mental health assessment for yourself or a loved one, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.

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