This is a common question that comes up when patients ask about Ketamine treatment.
This is likely because nearly every article written on Ketamine’s use in treating depression has a headline to the effect of “Horse tranquilizer may be the next great treatment for depression.” We are here to shed some light on this.
Summing up ketamine as only a horse tranquilizer is like saying wood can only be used to make paper or cellphones can only be used to check social media.
Sure, it makes a better headline to include “horse tranquilizer,” because it makes it sound controversial and interesting, but sensationalist titles aside, here are the facts.
Ketamine was first synthesized in 1963 and has been used in many applications. It was first tested in animals and quickly became an anesthetic drug of choice in the veterinary world but nearly simultaneously, its use in humans proliferated during the Vietnam war. At that time it wasn’t as long of a process to go from animal testing to human testing as it is today. When Ketamine was a research chemical it went from being tested on monkeys to being tested on humans within months. That speed could never take place these days.
So Ketamine has about as long of a history in veterinary medicine as it does in human medicine. A lot of medicines are used for both animals and humans - antibiotics are a good example of this.
For some patients it may feel strange to know that a medication they are receiving is used in animals as well, but that is more an indication of its safety and tolerability as many animals are extremely sensitive to anesthetics.
It is peculiar that the media often focuses on the veterinary use of Ketamine but does not highlight its more notable uses such as its use in pain management, small operations, or in emergency situations in humans.
But this is what the media does these days to get people to click on an article. Over the years, the media has portrayed many medications as having effects or characteristics that don't realistically display the true nature or potential of that substance.
An excellent example of this has been the medication phencyclidine (PCP). Many reports emerged in newspapers and TV about the effects PCP was having in people who consumed it. Some media outlets were reporting that people who had taken recreational PCP became “superhumanly strong,” and even had “cannibalistic tendencies.” In reality, PCP has anesthetic-like qualities, similar to Ketamine. Ketamine was actually developed by altering the PCP molecule. These sensationalized reports about PCP were often confabulated by the media and do not reflect the actual pharmacologic effects of the medication. It is no wonder that Ketamine had similar sensationalist reports over the years.
So the answer to if Ketamine is a medication used on horses is a definite yes. But ketamine is also used in treating very small animals like guinea pigs and kittens as well. There are significant dose differences between what a horse might receive, what a kitten might receive and what a person seeking treatment for depression or pain might receive. When sedating a horse, the dose could be 5,000 to 10,000 milligrams of Ketamine given IV push. In a person seeking Ketamine treatment for depression, a dose may be between 50-120 milligrams given over 30-45 minutes. The way most of these articles about ketamine are written make it seem as if people are getting the same dose of Ketamine a horse would receive but that is definitely not the case.
It seems strange the main way that people think of Ketamine is as a horse tranquilizer, when its main applications throughout its robust history have primarily been with other uses. We cannot expect the media to change the way that they report on any novel treatment, and they will almost always find the most controversial piece of data that they can use to exploit a medication in order to generate greater public interest. Even if that is to the detriment of that treatment modality.
Hopefully, this blog post helps to clarify Ketamine being known as a “horse tranquilizer” and increases public awareness about this common question.