Ketamine safety profile in the developing world: survey of practitioners

Acad Emerg Med. 1996 Jun;3(6):598-604.


Objective: To evaluate the safety profile of ketamine when used to facilitate surgical procedures in the less controlled setting of developing world, rural hospitals.

Methods: A survey addressing clinical experience with ketamine in the developing world was administered to a convenience sample of missionary physicians. Descriptive statistics are reported.

Results: Of the 172 surveyed physicians, 122 (71%) responded; 55 reported experience with ketamine. These physicians estimated a total of 12,844 administrations. The format of one procedural physician and a second trained anesthesiologist/anesthetist was unavailable in the practice of 59% of the responding physicians, and 34% routinely performed procedures while simultaneously supervising ketamine administration and monitoring its clinical effect. Pulse oximetry was used "often" or "always" by only 10% of the physicians. Cardiac monitoring and intermittent vital signs were used in only 19% and 45%, respectively. One unexplained pediatric death occurred during an unmonitored, unobserved ward recovery. An adult suffered cardiac arrest after a failed intubation attempt. Seventeen other complications possibly related to ketamine were apnea (n = 10), laryngospasm (n = 6), and aspiration (n = 1), all of which were transient and without sequelae. Physicians believed that recovery hallucinations and agitation were frequent in adults and unusual in children.

Conclusions: Death and other serious complications were rare in this survey reporting > 12,000 estimated ketamine administrations in the developing world. Although the limitations of survey data are recognized, the margin of safety with ketamine appears to be high, even when administered by non-anesthesiologists in settings lacking basic mechanical monitoring. These findings have important implications for the use of ketamine outside the controlled operating room environment in developed countries.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems
  • Anesthesia, General*
  • Anesthetics, Dissociative / adverse effects*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Hospitals, Rural
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / adverse effects*
  • Missionaries
  • Monitoring, Intraoperative
  • Religious Missions
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Health*


  • Anesthetics, Dissociative
  • Ketamine