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Ketamine is an anesthetic that is sometimes used as an illicit drug for its hallucinogenic properties, which has limited its availability for use in medicine. Ketamine treatment uses include general and local anesthesia, bronchospasm treatment, and a topical application for nerve pain. This drug is currently in clinical trials as a potential treatment for severely depressed and disabled patients with bipolar disorder.
First developed as an alternative to the dangerous anesthetic phencyclidine (PCP), there are advantages to ketamine treatment. It raises blood pressure and increases the flow of fluids, so it is an excellent drug to use in trauma cases. This compound is considered one of the essential drugs to have in an emergency trauma kit for war zones.
Side effects of hallucinations and excessive drowsiness have limited its use, but many ketamine treatment options are available for procedures that require anesthesia. This drug is used intravenously for general anesthesia, such as during major surgery. One use is as a sedative to accompany other anesthetics. It is also used as a local anesthetic, and is often the pain relieving agent in topical creams used to relieve shingles and other nerve pain conditions.
Another use for ketamine is in palliative care, such as that given to dying cancer patients. This type of ketamine treatment involves mixture with another painkiller. The other painkiller is often an opiate compound, such as morphine. This combination enables caregivers to give less morphine and minimizes the hallucinogenic effects of the ketamine usage.
People with asthma or severe bronchitis are another group that benefit from ketamine treatments, which are used to treat bronchospasms. These constrictions of the respiratory system can be fatal in extreme cases. The drug relaxes the muscles, thus relieving the constrictions.
Psychiatric disorders are another category of medicine in which treatment with this compound shows promise. Antidepressants normally take several weeks to work. Patients often give up and stop taking their prescription during this time frame. Quick low-dose ketamine treatments have shown promise in relieving unipolar depression.
Clinical trials are underway for using such an approach to treating severe bipolar disorder. Patients that had been depressed for decades and had failed to respond to seven different drugs had a significant decrease in their depression after brief treatment with ketamine. Half of these patients had even failed to respond to electroshock therapy. Most of these patients were so ill that they were unemployed and on psychiatric disability, so the side effects were worthwhile for the treatment provided. Some psychiatrists consider this approach highly dangerous and misguided, however.
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