Ketamine as an analgesic: parenteral, oral, rectal, subcutaneous, transdermal and intranasal administration

Robert H Kronenberg
Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy 2002, 16 (3): 27-35
Ketamine is a parenteral anesthetic agent that provides analgesic activity at sub-anesthetic doses. It is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist with opioid receptor activity. Controlled studies and case reports on ketamine demonstrate efficacy in neuropathic and nociceptive pain. Because ketamine is a phencyclidine analogue, it has some of the psychological adverse effects found with that hallucinogen, especially in adults. Therefore, ketamine is not routinely used as an anesthetic in adult patients. It is a frequently used veterinary anesthetic, and is used more frequently in children than in adults. The psychotomimetic effects have prompted the DEA to classify ketamine as a Schedule III Controlled Substance. A review of the literature documents the analgesic use of ketamine by anesthesiologists and pain specialists in patients who have been refractory to standard analgesic medication regimens. Most reports demonstrate no or mild psychotomimetic effects when ketamine is dosed at sub-anesthetic doses. Patients who respond to ketamine tend to demonstrate dramatic pain relief that obviates the desire to stop treatment due to psychotomimetic effects (including hallucinations and extracorporeal experiences). Ketamine is approved by the FDA for intravenous and intramuscular administration. Use of this drug by the oral, intranasal, transdermal, rectal, and subcutaneous routes has been reported with analgesic efficacy in treating nociceptive and neuropathic pain. Ketamine also has been reported to produce opioid dose sparing and good patient acceptance. A transdermal formulation is currently under patent review in Brazil and an intranasal formulation is currently undergoing phase I/II clinical trials.

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