Is Ketamine Involved with Opioid Receptors?

New Study: Does Ketamine Work Like an Opioid?

The American Journal of Psychiatry indicates that ketamine may activate opioid receptors responsible for controlling pain, reward responses, and addictive behaviors. Although still just a theory, researchers at Stanford University who conducted the study believe this could explain why ketamine has proven to be so effective as a treatment option for some patients suffering from depression, PTSD, mood disorders, and even chronic pain.

Ketamine has been widely used as a safe and fast-acting anesthetic since the 1970s. Over the last decade, however, it has gotten increased attention from the medical community as a potential treatment for depression and other mood disorders, when administered in sub-anesthetic dosages. The results of recent studies as well as anecdotal evidence strongly indicate that when administered properly, ketamine has the very real potential to offer immediate relief from both mood disorders and chronic pain, without many of the risky side effects associated with traditional antidepressants and opioid-based medications.

Scientists remain unsure about exactly how ketamine works. Until now, researchers have been operating under the belief that ketamine works by activating the brain’s glutamate system. As an NMDA receptor antagonist and an AMPA receptor stimulator, ketamine may inhibit the brain from incorrectly absorbing glutamate, a critical neurotransmitter involved in controlling the brain synapses and responsible for memory and learning. Restoring the proper glutamate balance is shown to have an immediate anti-depressant impact.

This new study offers a different theory about how ketamine works: that it activates the opioid system in addition to the glutamate system. In the study, researchers gave a small group of patients with treatment-resistant depression two IV Ketamine Infusion Therapy treatments, spaced two weeks apart. An hour before the first dose, the patients took a placebo. An hour before the second dose, the patients took the drug naltrexone, which blocks the impact of opioids on the brain. Patients reported that after the first dose, their depressive symptoms dramatically improved, while they reported no change in symptoms after the second dose. Scientists concluded that the naltrexone blocked the ketamine just as it would block an opioid-based medication.   

This small-scale study does not, of course, indicate with 100% certainty that ketamine works primarily by affecting the brain’s opioid system. It does, however, demonstrate the complexity of ketamine as a powerful treatment option and support its potential as a treatment option for chronic pain and mood disorders. Some scientists have suggested that ketamine may, in fact, prove to be an exceptionally powerful treatment tool because it affects both the glutamate system and the opioid system, providing immediate but short-term relief from symptoms like a traditional opioid and longer-term relief through its impact on the glutamate system.  

Contact Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles

Are you or someone you love suffering from a mood disorder such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar depression
  • Postpartum depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

If the answer is yes, we encourage you to contact Dr. Steven L. Mandel at Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles to find out if IV Ketamine Infusion Therapy may offer a solution.

We encourage you to visit our website at or contact us at 424-343-8889 to schedule an appointment.

For more information about Ketamine Infusion Therapy treatments for depression, bipolar, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), fibromyalgia, pain syndromes and other conditions contact us at Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles in Southern California (Orange County) by clicking here or calling  310-270-0625.

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