an NMDA receptor antagonist most often known for its effectiveness in anesthesia particularly in the battlefield where it delivers prompt pain relief without creating cardiovascular issues. It’s also known for its use – in high doses – as the recreational drug “Special K”.
Delivered as an infusion or intramuscularly, as a cream, gel or intransally (often in combination with other analgesics), ketamine can be effective, at least in the short term, in treating several chronic pain states including complex regional pain syndrome and fibromyalgia as well as difficult to treat cases of depression.
The FDA’s approval of the Spravato (esketamine), a ketamine-based nasal spray marks the first truly new drug based approach to depression in decades.
Ketamine Might Work in Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Because…
It appears to reduce the central nervous system sensitization associated with increased pain in both disorders. An NMDA receptor antagonist Ketamine appears to increase levels glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, precisely where FM and ME/CFS patients may need it – in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It also appears to enhance dopamine activity. Ketamine’s ability to enhance circulatory functioning is also intriguing given the low blood volume and other possible circulatory issues in ME/CFS. One study that found that ketamine significantly decreased fatigue suggested it be trialed in nervous system disorders.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and Fibromyalgia Studies
No studies have examined ketamine’s effectiveness in ME/CFS but several studies have examined its effectiveness in Fibromyalgia. Given the need for infusions and ketamine’s short-lived effects, Ketamine may, however, be more important for what it tells researchers about fibromyalgia than as an actual treatment aid.
Dutch researchers recently found that 30-minute ketamine infusions reduced pain levels in fibromyalgia by 50% but the effect was too short-lived, lasting less than 2 hours, to justify more treatment. In a 2007 French study, subcutaneous ketamine reduced pain levels and increased blood flows in parts of the brain associated with pain regulation in fibromyalgia patients. An associated study suggested that a negative response to ketamine in Fibromyalgia was associated with an inability to increase blood flows to the medial frontal gyrus. These areas of the brain appear to be important in producing pain in FM patients. (Ketamine increases heart rate and blood pressure).
A successful 2000 Danish study able to reduce both local and referred pain suggested ketamine was reducing central nervous system ‘hyperexcitability’. In a 2006 review article Wood suggested the positive response to ketamine in fibromyalgia was not due to NMDA receptor inhibition but to increased dopamine levels in limbic system neurons.
Ramachandran proposed ketamine’s anesthetic properties might be helpful in ‘dissociative disorders’ such as fibromyalgia where patients attempt to dissociate themselves from their pain. Ketamine is known to create states of ‘dissociative anesthesia’ and, not surprisingly, has been used as a recreational drug.
Two fibromyalgia ketamine studies were underway in 2022 including a large Belgium study.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and Fibromyalgia Doctors Report
Dr. Podell reports that Ketamine reduces pain in about 50% of his fibromyalgia patients. Ketamine was a key component of Dr. Jay Goldstein’s (now retired) “resurrection cocktail‘. Goldstein administered ketamine intravenously or through a gel. The resurrection cocktail often included ascorbate, lidocaine, and thyrotropin-releasing hormone. One report stated that 50% of Goldstein’s patients felt dramatically better after the cocktail.
Dr. Ginerva Liptan notes that ketamine is experimental but thinks it has promise.
ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia Patients Report
One fibromyalgia patient with severe back issues reported that ketamine is the only drug that helps her and that one infusion reduces her pain from an 8 to a 2-3 for several weeks. in his book “Chronic Fatigue Gone!: A Recovery Plan for Covid Long Haul, ME/CFS, Lyme & Fibromyalgia (And for Anyone Who Wants More Energy)” ME/CFS patient Jason Boyce calls ketamine a game-changer.
Ketamine’s effects on perhaps the most tenacious pain disorder, complex regional pain syndrome, have been startling. Ketamine produced complete and sometimes long-term remission in all CRPS patients in one study. Other placebo-controlled, randomized studies using long infusion times have produced significant reductions in pain lasting up to three months. One author has argued that fibromyalgia and CRPS share numerous similarities – including a positive response to ketamine.
One review stated that “on the basis of a few short-term trials with limited clinical applications, ketamine may be effective in the treatment of chronic peripheral and central neuropathic pain, phantom and ischemic limb pain, fibromyalgia, chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), visceral pain and migraine”.
Ketamine may work in a large subset of fibromyalgia patients but clearly needs more study. Thankfully, with two fibromyalgia trials underway it’s starting to get that study.
Plus ketamine’s remarkable ability to relieve severe pain and/or depression in some patients appears to be sparking substantial research. Three molecular targets have been identified for depression and drug companies are developing easier-to-use ketamine derivatives – some of which are in clinical trials now.
Ketamine’s real promise for most FM and chronic pain patients lies in the future.
Learn More About Ketamine
- The Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS Ketamine Resource Center
- A Ketamine Revolution for Depression and Pain? Spravato, Fibromyalgia, and ME/CFS
- Ketamine and Fibromyalgia
- The Ketamine Question in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome