Ketamine abuse potential and use disorder

Brain Res Bull. 2016 Sep;126(Pt 1):68-73. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2016.05.016. Epub 2016 May 31.


Ketamine is a noncompetitive antagonist of N-methyl-d-asparate (NMDA) receptor and has been long used as an anesthetic agent in humans and veterinary medicine. The present article reviews the epidemiology, pharmacology, neurochemistry, and treatment of ketamine abuse. Ketamine has a unique mood controlling property and a number of studies have demonstrated a significant and rapid antidepressant effect of ketamine. However, the therapeutic value of ketamine to treat psychiatric disorders faces a major challenge that ketamine also owns significant reinforcing and toxic effects. Its abuse has posted severe harms on individuals and society. Disrupted learning and memory processing has long been related with ketamine use. It is hypothesized that ketamine blocks NMDA receptors on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons inside the thalamic reticular nucleus, which leads to disinhibition of dopaminergic neurons and increased release of dopamine. Currently, there is no specific treatment for treating every ketamine patient presenting peripheral toxicity. Interestingly, ketamine psychotherapy has been suggested to be a promising approach to treat addiction of other drugs. Future research can continue to develop creative ways to investigate potential mechanism and treatments related to ketamine abuse that have posted severe individual and social harms.

Keywords: Anti-depressant; Ketamine abuse; Neurobiology; Pharmacology; Toxic effect.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / adverse effects*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Social Behavior
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Ketamine