Ketamine, a potent drug that is often used in anesthesia and classified as a “dissociative agent” is also popular on the club scene in a recreational sense, often referred to as “Special K.” It has also been used in veterinary medicine to sedate animals and causes individuals to enter a “trance-like” state when taken.
Naturally, due to its dissociative properties, Ketamine is a monitored, scheduled drug that is almost never seen for medical purposes outside of surgical areas or situations that require sedation under the watchful eye of medical personnel. However, researchers have discovered that Ketamine may have another use in carefully monitored dosages: it may treat migraine headaches, especially atypical and refractory migraine headaches, as well as migraines that don’t respond to any other treatment.
Many people suffer from migraine headaches. Approximately 10 percent of the population has had at least one migraine, and a significant percentage suffer from chronic migraines, which are classified by neurologists as migraines that occur more than 15 days each month. Migraines typically present with throbbing, unilateral pain on one side of the head, sensitivity to light, sometimes nausea and vomiting, and are responsible for many lost work days and lack of productivity in the United States, as well as a lowered quality of life for sufferers.
The etiology of migraines is unknown although it is thought to be a vasospasm in the head. They tend to run in families and have been associated with higher risk of cerebrovascular accident. Common therapy includes avoidance of triggers, which could be certain additives in food, like MSG, caffeine, or going for too long without eating. Other people get headaches from strong scents, emotional upheaval, hormonal fluctuations of sleep disturbance. Medications that may help some people may be anti-inflammatories, mild narcotics, anti-nausea drugs, and prescription medications like propranolol and Imitrex. Unfortunately, these methods don’t work for every migraine sufferer, particularly those who get atypical migraines, which may present with stroke-like symptoms, including numbness and tingling on one side of the body and difficulty finding words.
Researchers have discovered that the “club drug” ketamine may be useful in the treatment of certain types of migraine, according to WebMD. Duren Michael Ready, MD, a headache specialist at Baylor, Scott & White Health in Temple, TX, presented research during a chronic pain conference that suggested that a 25-milligram ketamine nasal spray reduces severity of symptoms such as mood change associated with migraines, and that a 10- to 50-milligram dose is beneficial and safe for “breakthrough pain” — pain that continues to flare up even after treatment has been initiated.
Ready explained that Ketamine was not a viable alternative for all patient populations.
“It’s not something you want to pull out for everyone, but it might it be useful for someone not getting better with typical treatments. You want to kind of limit how often patients use it. These are not doses at a level that will produce sedation, but at levels that can help block the pain.”
Ready added that Ketamine could be given as a nasal spray and that serious side effects are possible, including hallucinations and “out of body” experiences, so prescribers must be diligent in monitoring use and effectiveness of Ketamine in those individuals it is prescribed to.
Migraines are not the only ailments that may be helped by Ketamine, researchers say. Chronic pain syndromes, severe depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are other illnesses that be treated with Ketamine in some instances. Robert Bonakdar, MD, is the director of pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, CA, and he says that more physicians are open to learning about treating chronic pain with Ketamine than ever before.
“Many doctors have transitioned from saying ‘that’s a really powerful anesthetic’ to saying ‘if we use it in the right dose and in the right arena, it can be very helpful’.”
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]