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A popular party drug often found at nightclubs and circuit events may prove a panacea for those suffering from chronic pain, says pain interventionist and board-certified anesthesiologist Akash Bajaj, M.D., medical director of Remedy Spine and Pain Solutions in Marina del Rey. Bajaj says that, when administered by experienced clinicians in low doses, ketamine (that goes under the street name “Special K”) can alleviate pain experienced by those with fibromyalgia, arthritis, migraine headaches or who have suffered physical trauma. He does warn that abuse of the drug can result in hallucinations, nausea, high blood pressure, slow and shallow breathing, liver damage and irregular heartbeat.
“Ketamine has been safely used as an anesthetic since the mid-1960s (though not nearly as often as it once was), but only recently has been recognized for helping patients suffering from chronic and acute pain,” said Bajaj. “Research has shown that ketamine can have a beneficial effect on the central nervous system by giving your neurotransmitters a ‘reboot.’ Whereas many physicians prescribe opioids to alleviate pain, many patients have, tragically, become dependent on them and this has, in part, led to the opioid crisis our nation is facing. We are finding that ketamine is a safer alternative in many cases.”
Bajaj says that before considering ketamine, clinicians should confirm that the patient meets the appropriate diagnostic criteria and has no history of substance abuse or psychotic disorders.
The National Institutes for Health says that an estimated 25.3 million adults (11.2 percent) have experienced pain every day for the preceding 3 months and that nearly 40 million adults (17.6 percent) regularly experience severe levels of pain. Chronic pain, defined as lasting longer than six months, can remain active in the nervous system for months or even years. Its emotional toll can result in anxiety, stress, depression, anger and fatigue. Because of the mind-body connection associated with chronic pain, effective treatment often requires addressing psychological as well as physical aspects of the condition.
Bajaj says that most research on ketamine for chronic pain has focused on IV infusions, which limits its use as a long-term therapy. Ketamine taken in pill form or via nasal spray has been shown to be effective in clinical practice and research studies, though these patients should be closely monitored.
“The evidence from recent studies shows that ketamine reduces pain, decreases opioid consumption by up to 40% and has an excellent safety profile,” said Bajaj. “That’s good news for millions of pain sufferers.”
Bajaj completed his undergraduate studies at UCSD, graduating summa cum laude after which he simultaneously earned his M.D. and a Master’s degree in Public Health (M.P.H.) from New York Medical College. He served his residency in anesthesiology at UCLA Medical Center, where he pioneered the development of audio and visual distractions during surgery, anesthesia as a novel adjunct to administering anesthesia, and alleviating acute painful states. He completed an Interventional Pain Medicine Fellowship at the prestigious University of California San Francisco, selected as one of only five fellows. He lectures before colleagues at medical conferences and offers his expertise in the media. He is double board certified in anesthesia and pain management.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 310-920-1406 or visit thinkrps.com.