Low-dose ketamine vs morphine for acute pain in the ED: a randomized controlled trial

Am J Emerg Med. 2015 Mar;33(3):402-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2014.12.058. Epub 2015 Jan 7.


Objectives: To compare the maximum change in numeric rating scale (NRS) pain scores, in patients receiving low-dose ketamine (LDK) or morphine (MOR) for acute pain in the emergency department.

Methods: We performed an institutional review board-approved, randomized, prospective, double-blinded trial at a tertiary, level 1 trauma center. A convenience sample of patients aged 18 to 59 years with acute abdominal, flank, low back, or extremity pain were enrolled. Subjects were consented and randomized to intravenous LDK (0.3mg/kg) or intravenous MOR (0.1mg/kg). Our primary outcome was the maximum change in NRS scores. A sample size of 20 subjects per group was calculated based on an 80% power to detect a 2-point change in NRS scores between treatment groups with estimated SDs of 2 and an α of .05, using a repeated-measures linear model.

Results: Forty-five subjects were enrolled (MOR 21, LDK 24). Demographic variables and baseline NRS scores (7.1 vs 7.1) were similar. Ketamine was not superior to MOR in the maximum change of NRS pain scores, MOR=5 (confidence interval, 6.6-3.5) and LDK=4.9 (confidence interval, 5.8-4). The time to achieve maximum reduction in NRS pain scores was at 5 minutes for LDK and 100 minutes for MOR. Vital signs, adverse events, provider, and nurse satisfaction scores were similar between groups.

Conclusion: Low-dose ketamine did not produce a greater reduction in NRS pain scores compared with MOR for acute pain in the emergency department. However, LDK induced a significant analgesic effect within 5 minutes and provided a moderate reduction in pain for 2 hours.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / drug therapy*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / administration & dosage*
  • Pain Measurement*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Ketamine
  • Morphine