October 16

Common Questions About Ketamine for Pain Treatment Answered



Ketamine for pain relief has been used medicinally for several decades. It’s most common application is as an anesthetic to combat pain associated with surgeries. Recently, scientists have been interested in what this powerful substance can do for pain management. This has led to promising research and even some prescriptions of low ketamine doses to those struggling with chronic pain.

What is ketamine? 

Ketamine for pain is a medication used primarily for inducing and maintaining anesthesia. It has effects of pain-relieving, sleep-producing, and short-term memory loss. This drug helps relieve pain by interacting with a special chemical receptor called N-methyl-D-aspartate, also known as NMDA. This receptor helps modulate pain and is found in the body’s nervous system. Due to ketamine’s ability to impact other receptors, it has broader uses beyond pain management. 

Ketamine was first tested in human trials in 1964 and was eventually officially approved for use in the US in 1970. It’s listed as one of the most essential medicines by the World Health Organization and is available with a prescription. However, its abuse as a recreational drug with dissociative and hallucinogenic effects has led the government to label it a controlled substance. Unregulated use of it is strictly prohibited and can lead to fines and/or jail time. 

Is ketamine therapy effective for pain management? 

According to a study published in Pain Reports, “Ketamine gives robust and rapid relief of major depression and suicidal ideation. The mechanism for this effect is as yet not fully elucidated, but major depressive disorder is associated with synaptic downregulation in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, and it is believed that ketamine causes a glutamate surge that leads to a series of events resulting in synaptogenesis and reversal of the negative effects of depression and chronic stress.”

It’s important to note that the study also acknowledges a need for further studies on the benefits of ketamine for pain relief. Doctors across 400 clinics around the US use ketamine as treatment for chronic pain. 

What do experts say about using ketamine for pain

Despite the need for more studies regarding ketamine for pain relief, some doctors have great things to say about the use of this drug:

“If you start patients at an undetectably low dose [of Ketamine] and increase it slowly, they start noticing an improvement in their quality of life without side effects.” Dr. Lucinda Grande, Department of Family Medicine University of Washington, Seattle

“Ketamine may be used most effectively to reduce the symptoms of Allodynia (pain following normally non-painful stimuli), Hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain), and Hyperpathia (exaggerated pain after minor stimuli) rather than acting as a traditional analgesic” Dr. G Hocking, Pain Management and Research Centre, University of Sydney, Australia

“I will use . . . Ketamine for chronic pain patients who are not on opiates yet as kind of a technique to prevent them from getting on to opiates, and most people in the study who were already on opiates were able to get down to a lower dose with the use of Ketamine.” Dr. Lucinda Grande, Department of Family Medicine University of Washington, Seattle

What other conditions is ketamine therapy used to treat? 

  • Ketamine for depression 
  • Ketamine for anxiety 
  • Ketamine for PTSD 
  • Ketamine for OCD 
  • Ketamine for bipolar disorder
  • Ketamine for chronic pain 
  • Ketamine assisted therapy or psychotherapy

What are the risks of Ketamine treatment? 

Researchers who looked specifically into the side effects of ketamine for pain management identified two different groups for these side effects: those linked directly to ketamine and those associated with the treatment in combination with other drugs. 

Direct Side Effects 

  • Vivid dreams 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Unusual thoughts/Out-of-body experience 

Associated Side Effects: 

  • Urinary dysfunction
  • Visual disturbances 
  • Sedation

What are the types of ketamine administered for pain? 

Ketamine for pain and other ailments is administered in a variety of methods. The most common is intravenous, known commonly as IV. Another kind that also uses a needle is intramuscular injection or IM. Still, some patients will receive Ketamine in oral form as a lozenge, topically as a cream or gel, or even through the nose as an inhalant (Spravato spray). 

What happens during sessions for Ketamine for pain?

While it all depends on the provider chosen, a typical Ketamine therapy session starts with an experienced professional placing an IV catheter. Monitors to track vital signs like oxygen levels and blood pressure are situated. The prescribed dose of Ketamine is then administered at a slow rate. When the prescribed amount has been administered fully, there’s usually a recovery period. Sessions, where Ketamine is being administered via an inhalant or orally, will look slightly different than this standard model. 

How long is a typical session for IV? 

Keeping in mind that times vary between providers, each infusion session lasts around 90 minutes on average where the time under the influence of Ketamine is usually around 45-60 minutes. 

What will I feel during the session? 

When the infusion starts, you’ll be able to feel the effects rather quickly. You’ll remain aware of your environment and consciousness. However, you won’t be able to talk normally or stand up, which you shouldn’t try. Physically speaking, you’ll be feeling relaxed. Mentally, however, your mind will be active. 

Some patients experience what’s known as dissociation or a dissociative effect. This might colloquially be described as an out-of-body experience and involves a partial loss of awareness of your physical body. Some people find it easy to manage by simply opening their eyes. This out-of-body experience doesn’t happen to all patients but has been reported by some. 

Due to the relatively potent sensations associated with Ketamine treatment, some patients are tempted to associate the procedure’s benefits with these feelings. In reality, the research suggests that the relief from depression doesn’t come from these strange sensations but rather from physical changes that occur within the brain. You might feel strange for a little while, but this is a side effect of the treatment and not the goal. 

How much do Ketamine infusions cost? 

Ketamine infusions for pain relief generally range in cost from $350 on the low-end to $1,200 on the higher end per treatment. Depending on the unique needs of the patient and the doctor’s prescription, Ketamine treatment might involve a single infusion or a series of infusions. Altogether, a patient might spend anywhere between $1,400 and $12,000 for a full set of Ketamine infusions for pain relief. 

Some doctors might determine that further infusions are necessary following the initial treatments. Maintenance Ketamine programs generally range in cost from $350 to $900 for each treatment. These maintenance infusions are typically used to help keep the symptoms of pain under control. This might be necessary once per month or less frequently depending on the unique needs of the patient. 

Am I eligible for insurance coverage? 

Insurance coverage for Ketamine treatment varies between each provider. Patients are encouraged to check with their providers to see what’s required for coverage in order to avoid surprise bills. 

Does Ketamine therapy intervene with my current treatment plan? 

Many patients rightfully wonder how the treatment of Ketamine for pain would interfere with any current therapy they’re undergoing. The answer to this question might vary between patients, so it’s best directed to personal doctors. These professionals should have the most up-to-date information for each patient. As a result, if they’re familiar with Ketamine treatments, they might be able to give an accurate answer to whether they’ll interfere with a patient’s current treatment plan. 

What to look for in a good Ketamine clinic? 

  1. Experience: As with any form of medical treatment, it’s helpful to choose a clinic that has experience in their field. This can give you some peace of mind that they’re competent in their offerings. 
  1. Reputation: Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews from Ketamine clinics to see how previous customers have felt about their services. These testimonials can provide insight that clinics might not otherwise be willing to divulge on their own. Our website does the research and vets the best clinics for patients.
  1. Credentials: Perhaps one of the most important things to look for when choosing a good Ketamine clinic is proper accreditation and credentials. You want to make sure the associated professionals have the paperwork, education, and licenses required to do this type of work. 
  1. Set & Setting: Ketamine infusions are unique and can be an intense experience, so making sure that you feel comfortable in the space and that there are no potential disturbances, such as loud noises or foot traffic, is also very important. 

I am ready to take the next step. What do I do? 

If you’re interested in learning more, fill out the two-minute assessment to see if Ketamine therapy is a good option for you. After that, you’ll be able to schedule a free consultation to have all of your questions answered. 

For more information, please refer to our in-depth article about Ketamine therapy.

Disclaimer: This website does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

Virtual ketamine therapy

Ketamine therapy in the comfort of your home may be a good option for you. Fill out a 2-minute assessment and request a free consultation now. 

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About the author 

Karen Tunnell

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