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Older woman sitting on couch holding shoulder in pain opioids versus ketamine for chronic pain

Opioids versus Ketamine for Chronic Pain Management

Ketamine for Chronic Pain Management

Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While opioids have long been the standard treatment for chronic pain, concerns over their safety, potential for addiction, and diminishing effectiveness have led to a search for alternative therapies. Ketamine for chronic pain has emerged as a promising option, offering a unique approach that differs significantly from opioids. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between opioids and ketamine for chronic pain treatment. 

Mechanism of Action


Opioids work by binding to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord known as opioid receptors. This binding reduces the perception of pain and produces a sense of euphoria. However, prolonged use can lead to tolerance, requiring higher doses for the same pain relief, and physical dependence.



 Ketamine, on the other hand, is a dissociative anesthetic that acts primarily on the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain. By modulating the activity of these receptors, ketamine can interrupt pain signals without causing respiratory depression or physical dependence, making it a safer option for long-term pain management. 




Opioid use is associated with a range of adverse effects, including respiratory depression, constipation, sedation, and the risk of overdose. The opioid epidemic in recent years has highlighted the dangers of these drugs when used long-term. Opioids also carry a high risk of addiction, with many patients developing opioid use disorder



Ketamine for chronic pain has a relatively favorable safety profile, especially when administered in controlled medical settings. Its dissociative effects can cause disorientation and visuals, but these typically subside once the treatment is discontinued. Unlike opioids, ketamine has a low risk of addiction and does not depress the respiratory system, reducing the risk of overdose. 


Tolerance and Efficacy


One of the significant drawbacks of opioid therapy is the development of tolerance, where patients require higher doses over time to achieve the same level of pain relief. This can lead to a cycle of escalating doses and diminishing effectiveness. Additionally, opioids may lose their efficacy for some types of chronic pain. 



There is hope in ketamine for chronic pain patients who have developed tolerance to opioids or experienced opioid-induced hyperalgesia (increased pain sensitivity due to opioid use). Its unique mechanism of action makes it effective for certain types of neuropathic pain and central sensitization, that is why ketamine for chronic pain patients offers hope to those who have not responded well to opioids.


On-set and Duration of Relief


Opioids provide short-term relief from pain, typically taking 30-60 minutes for pain to subside and the relief only lasting a few hours before more medication is needed. This necessitates frequent dosing and increases the risk of dependence.



Ketamine’s effects become apparent quickly, typically seeing a reduction in pain within 5 to 15 minutes of administration. What’s more, these effects provide sustained relief, for some patients, relief can last days to weeks after a single administration. For some individuals who complete the induction of six 3-hour ketamine infusions over 3-4 weeks, the benefits may even extend for several months following the treatment. This extended duration seen with ketamine infusions has been shown to reduce the need for opioids in some patients, particularly those with chronic pain. Not having to take as many opioids leads to an improvement in the overall quality of life for chronic pain patients.


Psychological Effects 


Chronic pain patients taking opioids often face a higher risk of developing psychological issues due to several factors.

First, the euphoric and sedating effects of opioids can lead to mood swings, including depression and anxiety. Also, the development of tolerance often results in escalating doses, increasing the potential for addiction and subsequent emotional distress. Third, the constant need for opioids can lead to a preoccupation with medication and a sense of dependency, contributing to feelings of helplessness and loss of control. Moreover, opioid-induced cognitive impairment can interfere with daily functioning and exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Finally, the fear of opioid-related side effects or the stigma associated with their use can create a sense of isolation and emotional turmoil in chronic pain patients.



Ketamine’s dissociative effects can lead to an altered perception of reality and visuals, such as colors and shapes or a dream-like experience. While these effects can be disconcerting for some, they are generally short-lived and can be managed in a clinical setting. Also, ketamine has been shown to have rapid and profound antidepressant effects, which may be particularly beneficial for patients with chronic pain who also experience depression or anxiety. 


In the ongoing search for effective chronic pain management, ketamine and opioids represent two distinct approaches with their advantages and disadvantages. Opioids, despite their well-established efficacy, come with significant risks, including addiction and diminishing effectiveness over time. Ketamine for chronic pain, on the other hand, offers a safer alternative with a unique mechanism of action that can benefit patients who do not respond well to opioids. However, it’s crucial to note that the choice between ketamine and opioids should be made on a case-by-case basis, considering the patient’s specific condition, medical history, and the guidance of healthcare professionals. 


Ultimately, the goal in using ketamine for chronic pain is to provide patients with effective and safe treatment options that improve their quality of life while minimizing the risks associated with long-term opioid use. At KureIV, we believe that ketamine therapy represents a more favorable approach for chronic pain patients. This belief is grounded in several key advantages, including a lower risk of addiction and overdose, faster onset of action, longer-lasting relief, reduced reliance on other medications, and the additional benefit of positive psychological effects, such as reduced anxiety and depression. Ketamine is a promising step in that direction, offering hope for a future where chronic pain can be managed with fewer complications.


If you or a loved one is grappling with chronic pain, we encourage you to reach out to us for a consultation with one of our experienced providers. Your well-being is our priority, and we are dedicated to helping you find effective solutions to manage and alleviate your chronic pain. Don’t hesitate to contact us; relief and improved quality of life may be just a consultation away.

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KureIV provides safe, monitored ketamine infusion therapy for people who suffer from major depression, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and chronic pain in a friendly, professional environment.