Ketamine has a long history of controversial uses. Although commonly used in veterinary science as a horse tranquillizer, people have been recreationally injecting and snorting the disassociative drug since the late 70s.
But a groundbreaking new study, published in the journal Critical Care Medicine, has found that ketamine might just hold the key to reducing pressure inside the skulls of children suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Ketamine use has exploded in popularity over the last two decades for both medicinal and recreational use. However, it has long been avoided for TBI patients due to fears that it could increase intracranial pressure (ICP), or pressure exerted by fluids inside the skull on brain tissue. But a team recently set out to challenge that assumption.
They re-examined the effects of ketamine on ICP in 33 children aged between one month and 16 years, all of whom had been admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) with severe TBIs. Incredibly, the researchers found that not only did ketamine not raise ICP as previously thought, but in some cases, it actually lowered it.
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Ketamine was given to 11 patients during ICP crises, with an overall decrease in ICP observed. That’s a huge breakthrough, considering that children with severe TBIs are at high risk of dying or suffering long-term neurological impairment. And it could mean that ketamine might finally be given the recognition it deserves as a powerful tool for preventing and treating high ICP in vulnerable young patients.
Traditional ICP treatments help draw fluids out of the brain and into the bloodstream. But sometimes surgery is required, such as decompressive craniectomy and shunt placements, which can place young children at greater risk of permanent injury.
Promising, but preliminary
The study’s authors note that these findings are still preliminary, and more research is needed before we can fully understand the potential benefits of ketamine for children with TBIs. But according to co-author John C. Wellons, this study challenges almost two decades of conventional thinking about ketamine and ICP, and the results are nothing short of remarkable, he says.
Severe TBIs are tricky – especially in young children. The odds of making a full recovery can be slim and require months of rehabilitation to see any progress. Relieving pressure on the brain and putting measures in place to control swelling and prevent seizures are typically the first things doctors focus on.
Michael Wolf, MD, an assistant professor of paediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital and lead study author, said “Going forward, we plan to study the effects of ketamine in larger numbers of children with traumatic brain injury, partnering with colleagues at other children’s hospitals to do so.”
“If we are able to improve our understanding of ketamine’s effects in a larger study, we might find that ketamine represents another tool to provide the best possible treatment for children with traumatic brain injury,” he added.
Despite being preliminary, the results of the study are significant and have the potential to change the way medical professionals think about the relationship between ketamine and intracranial pressure.
Ketamine research takes a leap
It’s hard to argue against; we’re living in crazy times. Drugs that were once demonised by society now show greater promise in treating the most stubborn health problems plaguing humanity than big pharma would care to admit.
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In the desperate search for alternative mental health treatments, medical practitioners have been turning to more controversial treatment methods in recent years, including psychedelics and ketamine in clinical settings. And with groundbreaking results.
In 2014, a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that ketamine was effective in reducing suicidal ideation in patients with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, after multiple intravenous sessions. Further research indicates similar effects in patients suffering from PTSD.
A recent meta-analysis of 83 studies conducted by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open, verifies the notion that ketamine treatment can provide quick and temporary relief from depression and may also alleviate suicidal ideation and other symptoms of mental health conditions.
So is ketamine really the light at the end of the tunnel for millions in suffering? Or just a recreational drug user’s pipe dream of a utopia, where everyone is walking around high AF on horse tranq? It’s hard to say. The latter would certainly be a site for sore eyes. But the research is truly beginning to outshine the neigh-sayers. All that’s left is for the legacy medical industry to wake up.