Ketamine Horse Tranquilizer Effects On Humans: Dispelling the Myth
About the Author Dr. Steven P. Levine is a board-certified psychiatrist internationally recognized for his contributions to advancements in mental health care. Though he is a psychiatrist who places great emphasis on the importance of psychotherapy, medication is often a necessary component of treatment, and he was dissatisfied with the relatively ineffective available options with burdensome side effects. Dr. Levine pioneered a protocol for the clinical use of ketamine infusions, has directly supervised many thousands of infusions and has helped establish similar programs across the country and around the world.
Ketamine is a commonly used anesthetic drug (not tranquilizer) in veterinary medicine.
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 the effect on a human body), but the amount of veterinary 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 use for depression in humans, not horses. While there is potential for ketamine abuse (you’ve probably heard of a k-hole), the brain has NMDA receptors that benefit from ketamine in a medical setting when used intravenously. Depression symptoms and some chronic pain can be rapidly treated with this so called horse-tranquilizer.
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 off-label weapon in the fight against depression and other conditions.² 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.
Read Ketamine History: Battlefield to Depression Battles to learn how ketamine was first approved by the FDA for human use in combat (Vietnam War) in the 1970s.
- World Health Organization. (2016, March). Fact file on Ketamine.
- Sanacora G, Frye MA, McDonald W, et al. A consensus statement on the use of ketamine in the treatment of mood disorders. JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(4):399-405. doi:10.1001/ jamapsychiatry.2017.0080.