Google the definition of pain, and you get: “Physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.” This stale definition hardly captures the agony of enduring chronic and varying levels of pain. For some, common approaches to pain management haven’t provided relief. If you’re one of those people, Ketamine may provide a solution to your chronic pain. But why does ketamine work when other pain treatments like opioids don’t?
First, What is Ketamine Anyway?
Ketamine is not a new drug, although its application to pain management is fairly recent. It was first patented in the 1960s and has been used by veterinarians as an animal sedative and by hospitals and medics as an anesthetic. Although its been used nefariously as a club drug and date rape drug, the World Health Organization has labeled it as one of the safest and most necessary drugs.
Since the discovery that ketamine can treat treatment resistant depression and chronic pain, many doctors like those at Virginia Infusion Therapies in Leesburg, Virginia, have established clinics where they provide ketamine infusions from those suffering from depression and chronic pain. Ketamine infusions are not a first-line-of-defense treatment, but rather an increasingly popular answer when traditional treatment methods, like opiods, have not worked or have stopped working.
How Does Ketamine Work to Block Pain?
Medically, ketamine is known as an “NMDA antagonist.” Why does this matter? Because some types of pain, particularly chronic pain, have been linked to the activation of a neural receptor called N-methyl-d-asparte (NMDA). NMDA receptor activation can cause hyperalgesia, neuropathic pain, and opioid resistance.
In cases where pain is related to NMDA activation or a patient has developed opioid resistance, NMDA antagonists like ketamine provide a viable treatment option, according to a 2011 article published in U.S. Pharmacist. Ketamine has proven itself to be a “strong NMDA antagonist,” the article states. And it has “proved beneficial in multiple pain settings.”
A 2009 study by Dr. David Borsook, director of the Center for Pain and the Brain, linked ketamine to inhibiting the release of glutamate (one of the primary neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord) within glia (key players in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system) – which means ketamine blocks the neural transmission of pain signals.
Can Ketamine Reset Pain Receptors?
According to Dr. Borsook’s study, ketamine not only inhibits neural transmission, but also “resets” brain circuits, when administered in a low dose over an extended period of time.
“Taken together, ketamine may act not only on sensory systems affecting pain intensity, but on a constellation of brain regions that are involved in the pain phentype,” Dr. Borsook asserts.
Does Ketamine Have Any Neural Side Effects?
As an NMDA antagonist, ketamine does have an affect on the Central Nervous System (CNS). Patients have reported experiencing hallucinations, drowsiness, dizziness, dissociation, and a “spaced out” feeling.
However, people are increasingly experiencing relief from their chronic pain through ketamine infusions. “Few of us really understand what it is like to suffer from a chronic pain condition such as [Complex Regional Pain Syndrome],” Dr. Barsook writes. “Ketamine therapy may be a way forward that can be brought into our clinical practice through further controlled studies that will allow for appropriate standards for use in patients.”
Wondering if Ketamine Infusions are for you?
Ketamine infusions may provide a way forward and away from your chronic pain. About two-thirds of patients have found relief from their chronic pain through ketamine infusions, and the relief can last up to 3 months.
To find out if ketamine infusions are for you, we invite you to simply schedule a FREE 15 minute consultation with one of our clinicians.