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Ketamine vs Opioids

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In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the use of ketamine as an alternative to opioids for treating pain. Both drugs are commonly used to treat severe or chronic pain, but they work differently and have different side effects. 

While it’s true that both offer beneficial results, there are also risks associated with their use. To help those who are researching their options, let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between these two substances. 

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is an anesthetic medication used for sedation and pain relief. It has recently become popular as an alternative treatment for certain mental health issues, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Studies have suggested that due to its unique way of affecting the brain, it can create a major impact on the neural pathways associated with these conditions, leading to significant improvements in mood. It is also used to help manage chronic pain and reduce drug addiction. 

As with any medication, it should only be taken under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional and is only recommended for short-term use.

Chemical Composition of Ketamine

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that is primarily used in veterinary medicine. Its chemical formula is C13H16ClNO. It is a white crystalline powder that is soluble in water. 

What are Opioids? 

Opioids refer to a class of drugs that have been used for centuries to relieve pain and suffering, but they can be extremely addictive. Opioids work by blocking the body’s ability to feel pain and can create a feeling of euphoria, making them highly sought-after and misused. 

Common opioids include codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl, though there are many others on the market. When taken in prescribed amounts opioids are incredibly effective but when abused or overprescribed they can lead to deadly overdoses. 

Chemical Composition of Opioids

The active ingredient in most opioids is Morphine (C17H19NO3). Although the chemical structure can greatly differ based on the type of opioid.

Ketamine vs. Opioids: Fact Sheet

Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that works by blocking nerve signals from reaching the brain. It can be administered via injection or intravenously (IV). By blocking pain signals from reaching the brain, it helps to reduce pain levels without causing any physical dependence. 

On the other hand, opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and reducing pain signals from reaching the brain. This can make them extremely effective at providing relief from acute or chronic pain; however, they can also cause physical dependence or addiction if used for extended periods of time. 



Generic Name Ketamine Opioids
Drug Type Anesthetic Analgesic
Active Ingredients  Ketamine Morphine
Used as a treatment for: Pain and anesthesia Chronic pain
Available Form(s) Pills and Injections Pills and Injections
Available Strengths  10-100 mg/ml 15-200 mg
Is it a controlled substance? Yes Yes, 
Legal Status Class C drug Schedule II drug
Risk of Withdrawal Effects Yes Yes
Risk of Addiction Yes Yes

Opioids Dosage and Side Effects:

Opioids are powerful pain-relieving medications that act on the body’s central nervous system to reduce the perception of pain. They are an effective way to manage both acute and chronic pain, but they come with potential side effects. It’s important for patients to understand their opioid prescriptions and their possible side effects before taking them. 

In general, it’s recommended that people take opioids exactly as prescribed by their doctor, at the lowest dose possible for their condition. This helps minimize the potential risks of developing tolerance or dependence on opioids, while still providing relief from the symptoms they were prescribed for. 

However, when taking opioids it is important to keep in mind how your body may respond to them. Some common side effects associated with opioid use include nausea, vomiting, constipation, drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, dry mouth, and headaches. 

In rare cases, some people may experience more serious side effects such as breathing problems or serotonin syndrome due to the interaction between opioid medicines and other drugs they may be taking. 

Ketamine Dosage and Side Effects:

Ketamine is a medication used as an anesthetic and pain reliever in both humans and animals. It is also sometimes used off-label to treat depression or other conditions. The recommended dosage of ketamine depends on the patient’s age, medical condition, and response to treatment. 

Generally, dosages range between 15 and 30 mg for light dosages and 30 to 75 mg for standard dosages. When administered intravenously (IV), ketamine produces effects within 30 seconds and can last up to 45 minutes. When taken intramuscularly (IM), its effects take 5–10 minutes to appear, with a duration lasting between 1–2 hours.

Ketamine usage has several potential side effects that can be both short-term as well as long-term. These effects range from mild to severe, depending on the length and intensity of use. 

Common side effects include confusion, loss of coordination, nausea, and vomiting. Long-term side effects may include depression, weakened immune system, kidney damage, and memory problems. It is important for individuals considering the use of ketamine to understand the risks involved before deciding to use it. 

Opioids vs. Ketamine: Can You Withdrawal for Either? 

Yes, it is possible to experience withdrawal from both opioids and ketamine. Dependency for both drugs occurs when the body develops tolerance over time, requiring ever-increasing doses of the drug in order to achieve the same results. This leads to physical dependence, which can cause drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting when getting off opioids or ketamine. 

Although opioids have a higher potential for abuse than ketamine due their stronger effects on mood and behavior, both drugs can still be dangerous when used without proper medical supervision. 

It is important for anyone considering using either drugs medically or recreationally to be aware of the risks involved in doing so as well as any potential side effects or withdrawal symptoms they could experience if they become dependent on them. 

Ketamine vs Opioids: Prevalence in the United States

According to recent statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 5 million people used ketamine in 2020, making it one of the top ten most widely used illicit drugs in the nation. Of those using ketamine, about 1.5 million reported using it multiple times a month or more during the same year.

In addition to ketamine use, opioid use remains a persistent issue in the US. In 2020, more than 11 million people misused prescription opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine accordion to Centers For Disease Control And Prevention

Furthermore, over 2 million Americans abused heroin that year; an increase of nearly 55% since 2017. These numbers demonstrate how hard-hitting this epidemic has been on individuals and families across the nation throughout recent years. 

Emphasizing addiction treatment, increasing public awareness surrounding substance abuse issues, and expanding access to mental health services can help combat this growing problem in our society today.

Bottom Line: Ketamine versus Opioids

Ketamine and opioids are two powerful drugs used to treat severe or chronic pain, however, they work differently and have different side effects. Ketamine does not cause physical dependence like opioids do, however, it still has potential dangers if abused such as addiction or overdose. 

Ultimately it is important that you discuss all treatment options with your doctor before making any decisions about which one is right for you so that you can make an informed decision about which medication will best suit your needs!

FAQs on Opioids and Ketamine 

Is ketamine addictive?

There is some debate about whether ketamine is addictive. Some research suggests that ketamine can lead to physical dependence, but the risk of addiction is lower compared to other drugs, such as opioids. However, regular use of ketamine can lead to psychological dependence.

Can we use Ketamine for treating drug addiction?

There is some evidence to suggest that ketamine may be helpful in treating drug addiction, particularly opioid addiction. Ketamine has been found to reduce cravings and decrease the risk of relapse in people with opioid use disorder. It may also be helpful in treating other forms of addiction, such as alcohol use disorder and cocaine use disorder.

Which is more addictive: Ketamine vs Opioids?

Opioids are more addictive than ketamine as they are known for causing physical dependence.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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