Is Ketamine An Opioid? How it Works and its Effects
In recent years, ketamine has become a buzzword in the world of medicine. Originally used as an anesthetic for surgical procedures, this powerful drug has now gained attention for its potential use in treating depression and other mental health disorders. However, there is still confusion surrounding the classification of ketamine – Is it an opioid or not? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ketamine is not classified as an opioid, but its effects on the brain are similar.
In this blog, we will delve deeper into the world of ketamine and explore its mechanism of action, effects on the body, and potential risks.
An Overview of Ketamine
Ketamine, also known as “Special K” or “K,” is a dissociative anesthetic that was first developed in the 1960s. It works by blocking sensory perception and creating a state of dissociation, where sensations and thoughts become distorted. This property made it popular for use in surgeries and other medical procedures.
However, ketamine also has the potential to cause hallucinations and alter a person’s perception of reality, leading to its recreational use. It is often used as a club drug or in party settings due to its ability to induce feelings of euphoria and detachment from one’s surroundings.
Ketamine or Spravato, a nasal spray version of the drug, has also been approved by the FDA for use in treatment-resistant depression. This is because ketamine works on different neurotransmitter systems in the brain, making it a potential alternative for those who do not respond to traditional antidepressants.
The Mechanism of Action
Ketamine acts primarily on the glutamate system, which is responsible for regulating mood, cognition, and perception. It blocks the NMDA receptors in the brain, which control calcium influx and are involved in synaptic plasticity. By doing so, it increases levels of a chemical called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), leading to the growth of new neural connections.
Ketamine also has effects on other neurotransmitter systems, such as dopamine and serotonin, which play a role in mood regulation. This multi-faceted action is what sets ketamine apart from traditional antidepressants, which primarily target seroton in levels.
Effects of Ketamine on the Body
As mentioned earlier, ketamine can induce feelings of euphoria and detachment from one’s surroundings. It also causes changes in perception, making colors appear brighter and sounds more intense. However, these effects are short-lived, lasting only for about an hour.
When used in medical settings, ketamine’s effects on the body include sedation, pain relief, and muscle relaxation. It also has amnesic properties, which can be helpful for procedures that are traumatic or require immobility.
Following are some potential side effects of ketamine:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Disorientation and confusion
- Loss of coordination
In rare cases, higher doses of ketamine or prolonged use can lead to more severe complications, such as respiratory depression, seizures, or even death. Therefore, it is crucial to only use ketamine under medical supervision and as prescribed.
Is Ketamine Addictive?
While ketamine is not classified as an opioid, like opioids, it can cause psychological dependence. This means that a person may feel the need to use ketamine regularly to cope with daily life or experience its pleasurable effects. However, physical withdrawal symptoms are not typically associated with ketamine use.
Moreover, long-term use of ketamine has been linked to cognitive impairments, such as memory loss and difficulties with decision-making. These effects may be reversible if the person stops using ketamine, but it is essential to seek professional help in quitting.
Is Ketamine An Opioid?
It is essential to understand that while ketamine and opioids may have similar effects on the brain, they act on different systems. Opioids primarily target the opioid receptors in the brain, leading to pain relief and a sense of euphoria. On the other hand, ketamine’s main mechanism of action is through its effects on the glutamate system.
Therefore, it is incorrect to classify ketamine as an opioid. However, it is crucial to note that both substances have the potential for abuse and can lead to adverse effects when misused.
According to psychiatrists and mental health experts, ketamine should only be used as a last resort for treatment-resistant depression or under the supervision of a doctor. It is not meant for recreational use and can be dangerous when used without medical guidance.
Ketamine and its Impacts on Brain
As with any drug, it is essential to understand the potential impacts of ketamine on brain health. While it may have promising effects in treating depression and other mental health disorders, more research is needed to understand its long-term effects fully.
Moreover, individuals with a history of substance use disorder or psychiatric conditions may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of ketamine. Therefore, it is crucial to discuss one’s medical history with a doctor before starting ketamine treatment.
The following are the potential impacts of ketamine on the brain:
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders, such as psychosis
- Cognitive impairments, especially with prolonged use or high doses
- Increased risk of developing a substance use disorder
- Negative impact on brain development in adolescents and young adults
Medical Uses of Ketamine
Despite its potential for abuse, ketamine has been approved by the FDA for use in medical settings. It is primarily used as an anesthetic and pain-relieving medication during surgeries and other invasive procedures.
Additionally, Spravato (nasal spray version of ketamine) has been approved for treating treatment-resistant depression in adults who have not responded to traditional antidepressants. This is a significant breakthrough, as it provides an alternative treatment option for those who have not had success with other medications.
According to medical studies, following are the medications similar to Ketamine
- Esketamine (Spravato)
- Dextromethorphan (DXM)
- Methoxetamine (MXE)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- Tiletamine (Telazol)
- Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas)
Low Dose Ketamine Side Effects
When used in low doses, ketamine has fewer side effects compared to when it is used recreationally or in higher doses. Some potential side effects of low-dose ketamine include:
- Dizziness and drowsiness
- Mood changes
- Mild hallucinations or dissociative experiences
- Nausea and vomiting
These effects are usually short-lived, lasting for a few hours. However, it is essential to follow proper dosage guidelines and use ketamine only under medical supervision to minimize the risk of adverse effects.
How to Use Ketamine Safely
Ketamine should only be used under medical supervision and as prescribed. It is essential to follow the recommended dosage and never use more than what is prescribed.
Moreover, individuals with a history of substance abuse or psychiatric conditions should inform their doctor before starting ketamine treatment. This will help in determining if ketamine is a suitable option for them and ensure their safety.
Additionally, it is crucial to never mix ketamine with other substances, especially alcohol or opioids. This can increase the risk of adverse effects and potentially dangerous interactions.
Potential Risk Factors for Ketamine Use
While ketamine is generally safe when used as prescribed, there are certain risk factors that may increase the chances of experiencing adverse effects. These include:
- History of substance use disorder or addiction
- Pre-existing psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
- Underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease or liver dysfunction
- Using ketamine in combination with other substances, especially alcohol or opioids
- Prolonged or frequent use of ketamine without medical supervision
If you have any of these risk factors, it is crucial to discuss them with your doctor before starting ketamine treatment. They can provide you with personalized recommendations and monitor your progress closely to ensure your safety.
Opioids and Ketamine Abuse
While ketamine is not classified as an opioid, it does have the potential for abuse and addiction. It can produce euphoric effects similar to opioids when used in high doses or without medical supervision.
Moreover, individuals who are already struggling with opioid use disorder may be at a higher risk of misusing ketamine. This can lead to increased health problems and complications.
Following safety precautions and using ketamine only as prescribed can help prevent its misuse and reduce the risk of addiction. Additionally, seeking professional help for substance use disorders is crucial in overcoming addiction and improving overall health.
What to Do in Case of Ketamine Misuse
If you or someone you know is misusing ketamine, it is essential to seek help as soon as possible. Professional treatment can help in managing dependence and addressing underlying issues that may have led to misuse.
Moreover, talking to a doctor or mental health professional about any potential concerns and seeking support from loved ones can make the recovery journey more manageable. The guidance and support of healthcare professionals and loved ones can also help prevent relapse.
Following are tips that can help in preventing ketamine misuse:
- Only use ketamine as prescribed by a medical professional
- Avoid mixing ketamine with other substances, especially alcohol or opioids
- Seek help for any underlying mental health conditions that may contribute to substance misuse
- Reach out to a doctor or therapist if experiencing cravings or urges to use ketamine recreationally
Long Term Side Effects of Ketamine
While the short-term effects of ketamine are relatively mild when used as prescribed, there is still limited research on its long-term impact. However, studies have found that prolonged use or high doses of ketamine can lead to potential long-term side effects, including
- Cognitive impairments and memory problems
- Development of substance use disorder or addiction
- Psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis
- Negative impact on brain development in adolescents and young adults
It is crucial to use ketamine responsibly and only under medical supervision to minimize the risk of these long-term effects.
Ketamine may not be safe to use during pregnancy as it can have harmful effects on the developing fetus. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should consult their doctor before using ketamine.
Ketamine has not been approved by the FDA for treating PTSD, but it is being studied as a potential treatment option. It is crucial to discuss with your doctor if ketamine may be helpful in managing PTSD symptoms.
While ketamine is not classified as an opioid, it does share some similarities with opioids and has the potential for abuse and addiction. It is essential to use ketamine only as prescribed by a medical professional and follow proper safety precautions to minimize the risk of adverse effects. Moreover, individuals with a history of substance use disorder or psychiatric conditions should inform their doctor before starting ketamine treatment.
Seeking professional help for substance use disorders and following healthy coping strategies can also aid in preventing misuse and promoting overall well-being. If you or someone you know is struggling with ketamine misuse, reach out for help to start the journey towards recovery.
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