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Papers: 16 Dec 2023 - 22 Dec 2023

2023 Oct

Br J Pain




Low-dose ketamine infusions for chronic pain management: Does this qualify as evidence-based practice?


Griffiths HM


Chronic pain is becoming increasingly prevalent and burdensome both worldwide and in the United Kingdom. Due to the complexity of chronic pain and the therapeutic challenge associated, management is often difficult and requires multidisciplinary care encompassing a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological strategies. Conventional analgesic treatments, such as opioids and anticonvulsants, are effective in less than half of chronic pain sufferers and are typically limited to short-term use to prevent complications associated with long-term use such as tolerance and dependence. Consequently, research and clinical interest in alternative management options for chronic pain have increased in recent years, with ketamine being one example under investigation. However, since ketamine has been licensed as an anaesthetic for decades, it has bypassed the traditional scrutinous drug development sequence that is typically seen for therapeutics marketed for pain. As such, data supporting the unlicensed administration of ketamine for chronic pain management is lacking and is being outpaced by the rates of off-label use in pain clinics. Recent limited evidence suggests that ketamine, when given as an intravenous infusion in subanaesthetic doses for refractory pain patients, may provide modest analgesic effects in nearly all aetiologies of chronic pain, with side effects common but typically mild. However, there are concerns over the safety of this practice due to the paucity of robust supportive evidence and the accompanying lack of clinical guidelines or standardised protocols. This review shall summarise the literature examining the use of subanaesthetic-dose ketamine infusions for chronic pain to comment on the current level of evidence, with limitations of existing research and future recommendations discussed.