Ketamine for the Acute Management of Excited Delirium and Agitation in the Prehospital Setting

Pharmacotherapy. 2018 Jan;38(1):139-151. doi: 10.1002/phar.2060. Epub 2017 Dec 22.


Traditional first-line therapy in the prehospital setting for the acutely agitated patient includes an antipsychotic in combination with a benzodiazepine. Recently, interest has grown regarding the use of ketamine in the prehospital setting as an attempt to overcome the limitations of the traditional medications and provide a more safe and effective therapy. This review provides an overview of the pharmacology of ketamine, evaluates the literature regarding ketamine use for prehospital agitation, and proposes an algorithm that may be used within the prehospital setting. A literature review was conducted to identify articles utilizing ketamine in the prehospital setting. The review was limited to English-language articles identified in Embase (1988-June 2017) and the U.S. National Library of Medicine (1970-June 2017). References of all pertinent articles were also reviewed. Ten articles were identified including 418 patients receiving ketamine for agitation. The most commonly utilized route for administration was intramuscular (IM), with five of the seven IM administration studies using a ketamine dose of 5 mg/kg. Ketamine administered in this fashion was efficacious to achieve proper sedation during transport and did not require repeat dosing. Three studies applied a ketamine protocol to outline dosing and the management of ketamine adverse events. The most common adverse events identified were respiratory-related events and hypersalivation. Ketamine has a role for agitation management in the prehospital setting; however, emergency personnel education and ketamine protocols should be utilized to aid in safe and effective pharmacotherapy and provide guidance on the management of adverse events. Future prospective comparative studies, with protocolized standard ketamine regimens, are needed to further delineate the role of ketamine in agitation management and identify accurate adverse event incidence rates.

Keywords: agitation; emergency medicine; excited delirium; ketamine; prehospital.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Delirium / drug therapy*
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage
  • Ketamine / adverse effects
  • Ketamine / therapeutic use*
  • Psychomotor Agitation / drug therapy*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Ketamine