Ketamine Is an Effective Treatment for Chronic Pain

Study from The Lundquist Institute finds sub-dissociative doses useful for acute flare-ups

Man holding knee as if in pain

LOS ANGELES — A study from The Lundquist Institute shows that modest doses of ketamine can effectively treat acute exacerbations of chronic pain, providing physicians with another proven option aside from addictive opioids, which have devastated communities and resulted in thousands of early deaths in recent years.

The study, led by Dr. David Tanen, enrolled patients with a history of chronic pain (a group that consists of musculoskeletal, nerve pain, cancer, and arthritis, among other causes of chronic pain) who are often on long-term opiates or other pain relievers. The patients had come to the Emergency Department at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, which shares a campus with The Lundquist Institute, with an acute exacerbation and were treated successfully with intravenous ketamine. 

“Given the current widespread opioid epidemic, the search for non-addicting non-opioid alternatives has become a high priority in the medical community,” said Tanen. “This study provides evidence for physicians to use another option instead of opioids to treat the pain with these chronic pain patients.”

The study involved a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of 106 individuals experiencing acute exacerbation of their chronic pain syndromes conducted May 2017 to June 2018. The investigators found that more than 80% of patients given either 0.5 mg/kg or 0.25 mg/kg of ketamine experienced considerable pain relief within 60 minutes of drug administration. However, patients did experience more minor adverse reactions when receiving ketamine and the analgesic effect appears to have diminished by the time of follow up at 24 – 48 hours. The study’s results were published in in September in Academic Emergency Medicine.

“Working next to a major hospital, we have seen the impact of opioid addiction in our community,” said David Meyer, PhD, President and CEO of The Lundquist Institute. “Dr. Tanen’s work is critically important in seeking alternatives to these addictive substances.”