Is Ketamine An Opioid? What You Need To Know

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Is Ketamine An Opioid? What You Need To Know

Ketamine has been used as an anesthetic and pain reliever for decades, but it has also gained popularity in recent years due to its potential therapeutic effects on mental health. However, with the rise in opioid-related deaths and addictions, there have been concerns about ketamine being classified as an opioid. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, making it a major public health crisis.

In this blog, we will explore how ketamine works and its effects on the body and ultimately answer the question – Is Ketamine an opioid?

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic, which means it produces a sense of detachment from one’s body and surroundings. It was first developed in the 1960s and has been used as a safe and effective anesthetic for both humans and animals. Its popularity grew in the medical community due to its rapid onset of action, minimal respiratory depression, and cardiovascular stability. It is also used as a pain reliever, especially in emergency situations and surgeries.

The current use of ketamine in medical settings is to manage treatment-resistant depression and chronic pain. It has also shown promising results in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.

Ketamine or Spravato (the nasal spray version) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in treating depression, making it the first new antidepressant in decades.

How Does Ketamine Work?

Ketamine works by blocking the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which is responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain. By blocking this receptor, ketamine can produce anesthesia and analgesic effects.

Additionally, ketamine also affects other receptors in the brain, such as opioid and serotonin receptors, which may contribute to its antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. The chemical structure of ketamine is similar to that of opioids, but it works differently in the body.

Psychiatrists or mental health experts administer ketamine in small doses, either through an intravenous infusion or as a nasal spray. The effects of ketamine can be felt within minutes, and they usually last for about 30-45 minutes.

Is Ketamine An Opioid?

Ketamine and opioids differ in their chemical structure, mechanism of action, and potential for abuse. Opioids are derived from the opium poppy plant, while ketamine is a synthetic compound.

Ketamine is not an opioid as it does not bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, nor does it produce similar effects. However, ketamine can cause a dissociative state and may have some mild sedative effects, which could be mistakenly associated with opioids.

While both ketamine and opioids can cause respiratory depression at higher doses, ketamine has a much wider safety margin. It is considered relatively safe even in high doses, making it a preferred anesthetic for emergency situations and surgeries.

Alternatives to Opioids

Opioids are highly addictive and can lead to severe dependence and overdose deaths. The opioid crisis has forced medical professionals to seek alternative options for pain management, especially for chronic pain conditions.

Ketamine is emerging as a promising alternative to opioids in treating both acute and chronic pain. Its potential for abuse is lower, making it a safer option for long-term use.

Other alternatives to opioids include non-opioid pain relievers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), nerve blocks, physical therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Following are some of the advantages of using ketamine over opioids:

  • Lower potential for addiction and abuse
  • Wider safety margin
  • Helps to alleviate chronic pain conditions
  • Does not suppress breathing or cause sedation at therapeutic doses

Now let’s look into the list of alternatives to opioids in detail:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): These are commonly used to treat mild to moderate pain and inflammation. Examples include ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.
  • Nerve Blocks: These involve injections of anesthetic or anti-inflammatory medications near the nerves that transmit pain signals. They can provide long-term relief for localized pain.
  • Physical Therapy: This involves exercises and techniques to improve physical function and reduce pain.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): It is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals develop coping mechanisms and change behaviors that contribute to chronic pain.

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Ketamine, like any other medication, can be misused and lead to addiction. However, its potential for abuse is much lower compared to opioids. The dissociative effects of ketamine may make it appealing to some individuals seeking a “high,” but the majority of people do not develop an addiction.

Additionally, ketamine is only administered under medical supervision in controlled settings, reducing the risk of misuse and addiction. The low dose ketamine used for mental health treatment is not considered addictive.

Patients must be carefully monitored and evaluated for any signs of addiction or misuse while undergoing ketamine treatment.

What Does Ketamine Do to Your Brain?

Ketamine’s mechanism of action involves blocking the NMDA receptor and increasing levels of neurotransmitters, such as glutamate and dopamine. This leads to changes in brain activity and may contribute to its antidepressant effects.

In people with depression or chronic pain, there is an imbalance in these neurotransmitters, which can be corrected by ketamine.

However, more research is needed to fully understand how ketamine affects the brain and its long-term effects. For example, there are concerns about potential cognitive and memory impairments with repeated or prolonged use of ketamine. It is crucial to carefully monitor patients undergoing long-term ketamine treatment for any adverse effects.

Effects of Ketamine on the Body

Apart from its effects on the brain, ketamine can also cause changes in other parts of the body. These may include increased blood pressure and heart rate, tense muscles, agitation, and blurred vision.

At higher doses or when combined with other substances, ketamine can lead to serious side effects such as respiratory depression, hallucinations, and even death.

Therefore, it is essential to only use ketamine under the supervision of a medical professional and in controlled settings.

The following are the effects of ketamine on the body:

  • Anesthesia and analgesia: Used in lower doses, ketamine can provide anesthesia and pain relief during surgeries or medical procedures.
  • Anti-depressant effects: Ketamine has been found to have rapid antidepressant effects in treatment-resistant depression.
  • Relief from chronic pain: Ketamine may help alleviate chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, and migraines.
  • Potential for misuse and addiction: Ketamine, like any other medication, can be misused and lead to dependence. It is essential to use it responsibly under medical supervision.

The Difference Between Ketamine and Opioids

Remember, both ketamine and opioids are used to manage pain, but they have significant differences in their mechanism of action, potential for abuse, and adverse effects.

Here’s a quick summary of the key differences between ketamine and opioids:

Synthetic compoundDerived from the opium poppy plant 
It does not bind to opioid receptors in the brainBinds to opioid receptors in the brain
Low potential for addiction and abuseHigh potential for addiction and dependence
Wider safety marginNarrower safety margin
Commonly used as an anesthetic and for mental health treatmentCommonly prescribed for pain management
Does not suppress breathing or cause sedation at therapeutic dosesThis can lead to respiratory depression and sedation
Emerging as an alternative to opioids for pain managementTraditional option for pain management
Does not need a special prescriptionRequires a controlled substance prescription
Less likely to cause withdrawal symptomsThis can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms

Medical Applications of Ketamine

Ketamine was initially developed as an anesthetic and has been safely used in medical settings for decades. However, recent research has found its potential in treating various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder.

Apart from its use in anesthesia and mental health treatment, ketamine may also be beneficial in managing chronic pain conditions. It has shown promising results in providing relief for conditions such as fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, and migraines.

Moreover, ketamine’s potential for reducing inflammation may also have applications in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Which Drugs Cause Similar Effects?

As an anesthetic and pain reliever, ketamine is sometimes compared to other medications with similar effects. Some of the drugs that may cause similar effects as ketamine include:

PCP (phencyclidine): Similar to ketamine, it is a dissociative anesthetic and can produce hallucinations and altered perceptions.

DXM (dextromethorphan): A common ingredient in cough and cold medications, it can also cause dissociative effects at high doses.

DMT (dimethyltryptamine): A naturally occurring substance that can induce hallucinations and altered states of consciousness.

Nitrous oxide: Another anesthetic used for pain relief that can produce dissociative effects at high doses.

GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate): A central nervous system depressant that can cause sedation and relaxation.

As with any substance, it is crucial to use ketamine responsibly and under medical supervision. Seeking help from a trusted healthcare professional is essential if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or misuse of ketamine or any other substance.

Low Dose Ketamine Side Effects

Low-dose ketamine, when used under medical supervision, is generally safe and well-tolerated. However, like any medication, it may cause some mild side effects in some individuals.

These may include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Chills or sweating

If you experience any of these side effects, it is essential to inform your healthcare provider. They may adjust the dosage or provide additional medication to help manage these symptoms.

Ketamines for Pain Management

Ketamine’s effectiveness in managing chronic pain conditions has been a topic of interest in recent years. It is particularly useful for patients who have not found relief from other pain medications or are at risk of developing opioid dependence.

The exact mechanism of how ketamine provides pain relief is still under investigation, but it is believed to act on NMDA receptors and reduce inflammation, leading to a decrease in pain signals.

Ketamine may be used as an alternative or adjunctive treatment for conditions such as:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Migraines
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Cancer-related pain
  • Chronic back pain
  • Osteoarthritis

It can be chronic pain relief for new treatments for patients who have exhausted other options. However, it is essential to work closely with your healthcare provider and follow their instructions carefully, as misuse or high doses of ketamine can lead to adverse effects and dependence.


Ketamine is not an opioid but a synthetic compound with its unique mechanism of action. It has shown promise in managing pain and treating mental health conditions, making it a valuable tool in the medical field. However, it is essential to use it responsibly under medical supervision to avoid potential adverse effects and misuse. If you or someone you know needs help with substance use or pain management, do not hesitate to seek professional help.  Keep yourself informed and make responsible choices for your health and well-being. 


Question 1: Can you smoke ketamine?

Ans 1: No, ketamine should not be smoked as it can cause severe damage to the lungs and respiratory system. It is meant to be taken orally or through injection in a medical setting under close supervision.

Question 2: Can we use ketamine for nerve pain?

Ans 2: Yes, ketamine has shown effectiveness in managing nerve pain, but it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before using it for this purpose. They will evaluate your condition and determine if ketamine is the right treatment option for you.

Question 3: What are ketamine side effects in the long term?

Ans 3: The long-term effects of ketamine are still being studied, but high doses and misuse can lead to potential side effects such as bladder and kidney damage, memory problems, and addiction. Proper use under medical supervision is crucial to avoid these risks. 


Title: Ketamine Current applications in anesthesia, pain, and critical care


Written & Published By: NIH “National Library of Medicine”

Title: Drug that acts like ketamine—but without the potential for abuse or psychotic effects—eases depression in lab tests


Published By: VA “US Department of Veterans Affairs

Published On: December 8, 2017

Title: Is Ketamine An Opioid?


Written & Published By: Still Detox

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    2 months ago

    Wow Helpful information

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