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Post: Rediscovering Ketamine

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Rediscovering Ketamine
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Source: BartVL71 / Wikimedia Commons Coauthored by Rachel Wilkenson, MD

Ketamine was synthesized in the 1960s by scientists at Parke-Davis Laboratories while they were searching for a general anesthetic to replace phencyclidine, an older medicine that caused confusion and agitation when people awoke from surgery. Phencyclidine is also known as PCP. A series of chemicals similar to PCP, but slightly altered, were created. One of these chemicals produced excellent anesthesia and was thus selected for human trials. It was named ketamine.

Ketamine was first administered to a human in 1964. The patient responded very well. Subsequently, patients treated with ketamine reported feeling as if they were floating in space or had no feeling in their arms or legs. When one scientist described this reaction to his wife, she suggested the medicine was a “dissociative anesthetic” and this label stuck.

Ketamine was first patented in 1963 in Belgium, where it was used as a veterinary anesthetic, and in 1966 in the United States where it was used for both animal and human anesthesia. Ketamine became available by prescription under the name Ketalar in 1969.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ketamine in 1970, the same year the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was passed. The CSA created five schedules of controlled substances. Then, during the Vietnam War, reports of ketamine abuse emerged, resulting in this medicine being placed in Schedule III. This positioned ketamine in a less restrictive category than the attention -deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medicines Ritalin and Adderall , but […]

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