Pain and depression often go hand-in-hand. It may not be surprising, then, to learn that a certain drug could be useful in treating both conditions. Ketamine, for example, has been well-established as a treatment for Major Depressive Disorder. More recently, this drug has been researched as a means of treating certain chronic pain conditions.
How Does Ketamine Treat Chronic Pain?
In low doses, ketamine enacts an analgesic, or pain-relieving, the effect on the body. It has been shown to be especially beneficial in pain conditions that have a neuropathic component.
These are conditions stemming from nerve damage, such as diabetic neuropathy. While the exact mechanism is still being researched, it is thought that Ketamine induces its pain-relieving effect via inhibition of a specific receptor in the brain called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). Interestingly and, perhaps, unsurprisingly, this is the same receptor whose inhibition has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of depression.
What Conditions Can It Treat?
Studies are ongoing to determine which conditions may benefit from low-dose ketamine therapy. Early trials support further exploration of its use in certain conditions:
A 2017 literary review of therapies acting on NDMA receptors showed that low-dose, intravenous ketamine benefited patients suffering from fibromyalgia.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
A 2018 study found topical ketamine to be a promising therapy in the treatment of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a chronic pain condition that is often resistant to traditional therapies. A second 2018 study also found that intravenous ketamine proved beneficial for CRPS in the short-term (less than three months).
Ketamine for refractory headaches is also being explored. A 2018 study showed that further trials are warranted in this area, given the positive short-term response experienced by the study’s patients.
Dose standardization and means of administration (oral, topical, or intravenous) will be important in clarifying its usefulness long-term. Furthermore, in the wake of the opioid crisis, alternatives to these traditional pain therapies may be especially beneficial.