I have a well-rounded sense of humor, but draw the line when lives are at stake. Referring to ketamine as a horse tranquilizer in the media may catch eyes, but its lure does more harm than good. To dispel the myth of “ketamine the horse tranquilizer,” let’s start with the truth:
Ketamine is a commonly used anesthetic (not tranquilizer) in veterinary medicine.
A refined headline would be “Cat Anesthetic For Treatment-Resistant Depression,” but even that is inaccurate considering the origin and overall usage of ketamine. Ketamine was developed in the 1960s as a medicine for anesthesia during surgery and is still being used in emergency rooms and field hospitals. It is considered among the safest medications by the World Health Organization. Like many medications developed for human consumption, ketamine found its way into veterinary medicine. Here’s a short list of other medications creatures take:
A lot of medicines work across species—it’s the dose per species and then per life-form that is unique.
When you call ketamine a horse tranquilizer, it evokes imagery of a drug so strong it can knock out a horse (just imagine what that could do to a human), but the amount of ketamine it takes to anesthetize a horse is much larger than what a human requires for depression treatment. The amount of anything consumable is a crucial consideration we often take for granted. Consider the following:
• Consuming less than 10 extra strength Tylenol in a sitting could be harmful
• Drinking 2 or more gallons of water over a few hours could be deadly
• Eating 200 apple seeds in a sitting could kill you
When treating patients, we use safe, human-appropriate doses of ketamine, which are around 10 times smaller than what is used during surgery. The starting dose is unique per patient, based on factors like weight. IV infusions maintain tight control over the rate of administration; vital signs are monitored; our staff is highly trained in advanced life support. Our protocol is based on two decades worth of researching the benefits of ketamine for depression in humans, not horses.
Ketamine was a breakthrough 20 years ago. Now, it’s a time-tested fact, well known in the international medical community as an advanced, robust weapon in the fight against depression and other conditions. Calling it a horse tranquilizer, after all we’ve learned, is misleading and may stop suffering individuals from considering an alternative that may work when everything else fails. So if you wouldn’t mind, change the headline.