Is Ketamine an Opioid?

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A lot of research has gone into ketamine in recent years. Once seen as little more than a dissociative anesthetic, it is now increasingly being used in mental health treatment. Many confuse ketamine with other drugs and some wonder, is ketamine an opioid? Ketamine is not an opioid – however, it does interact with opioids and the brain’s opioid receptors in surprising ways.

In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know about this drug.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a medication primarily used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. It induces a trance-like state while providing pain relief, sedation, and memory loss. It’s widely used in surgery, particularly for short procedures. Because ketamine is not an opioid, it’s especially helpful in situations where there are concerns regarding maintaining a patient’s breathing and circulation.

The drug generally takes the form of a white, crystalline powder. This is the most common form it takes as a street drug. However, it can also be taken as a liquid, pills, or nasal spray.

Ketamine has various uses, including as an anesthetic in surgery and, more recently, in lower doses as a treatment for severe depression. While it does have medicinal uses, ketamine is also open to abuse and is a popular street drug.

Aside from its use as an anesthetic, ketamine has also gained attention in recent years as a therapeutic drug. It’s been used in treating severe depression, especially in cases where other treatments have failed.

A randomized, double-blind, controlled trial in the journal Nature found that ketamine was effective and well-tolerated as an antidepressant. Another study, called Bio-K, found of 74 people treated for depression across Michigan, Maryland, and Minnesota, 67% found their depression symptoms alleviated by ketamine treatment.

Ketamine is also being studied and used off-label for treating a range of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Despite this promising research, ketamine is not without risks. While generally safe when used under medical supervision, it can also cause side effects such as dissociation (feeling detached from the body and environment), hallucinations, dizziness, and increased blood pressure. Recreational use of ketamine can lead to abuse and addiction.

Is Ketamine Legal?

Due to its potential for abuse and recreational use, ketamine is classified under US law as a Schedule III controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This indicates that it has a recognized medical use but also a potential for abuse, which may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.

Is Ketamine an Opioid?

Ketamine is not an opioid. However, it can interact with the brain’s opioid receptors in intriguing ways. Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that ketamine’s antidepressant qualities work partly by activating the brain’s opioid receptors.

Ketamine may actually be able to be used to treat some kinds of opioid addiction. One study found it can reduce fentanyl tolerance. A study in rats found that by blocking the opioid receptors, ketamine produced no effects. Interestingly, this outcome was only seen in male rats; females still responded to ketamine.

What Is an Opioid?

Like ketamine, opioids are also used for their pain-relieving properties. But the mechanism is different. The human brain actually has receptors that opioids can bind to. When this happens, they inhibit the transmission of pain signals. They can also produce feelings of intense euphoria.

There are several different kinds of opioids:

  • Natural Opiates – These are derived directly from the opium poppy plant. Examples include morphine and codeine.
  • Semi-synthetic Opioids – Synthesized from natural opiates. Prominent semi-synthetics include heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
  • Synthetic Opioids – As the name suggests, synthetic opioids are chemically created in a lab and are not derived from the opium poppy. Fentanyl and methadone are two well-known synthetic opioids.


Opioids are often prescribed to treat acute and chronic pain, such as following surgery. However, due to their high potential for addiction and dependence, their use is highly regulated in many countries, including the United States. Many opioids are more strictly controlled than ketamine. Because of this and ketamine’s lack of any depressive effects on a person’s breathing, it’s often used to treat pain.

Opioids vs. Opiates

The terms “opioid” and “opiate” are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings:

  • Opiate – This refers specifically to the natural alkaloids found in the resin of the opium poppy. These include substances like morphine and codeine. Opiates are a subset of opioids.
  • Opioid – This is a broader category that includes all substances (natural, semi-synthetic, and synthetic) that act on opioid receptors in the brain to produce morphine-like effects.


This distinction is important in the context of drug regulation, treatment, and education about drug addiction and abuse. Opioids encompass a wider range of substances beyond those derived directly from the opium poppy, which can affect legal, medical, and therapeutic approaches to managing and addressing opioid use.

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What Are the Effects of Ketamine?

Ketamine affects both the body and the mind, with its effects varying greatly depending on the dose and route of administration. It’s used medically for anesthesia and recently as a treatment for depression. However, it is also known for its use recreationally, where its effects can be unpredictable and potentially harmful.

Physical Effects of Ketamine

Ketamine’s physical effects can be quite pronounced and vary with the dosage. At lower therapeutic doses, these effects include:

  • Pain Relief – Ketamine is an effective analgesic, which is why it is used in pain management and during surgeries.
  • Increased Heart Rate – This can occur shortly after taking ketamine, particularly at higher doses.
  • Breathing – At low doses, ketamine stimulates breathing. However, it can significantly slow breathing at high doses, sometimes to dangerous levels.
  • Motor Function Impairment—Ketamine relaxes the body, reducing motor function and coordination. People who take it often report feeling heavy or numb.
  • Nausea – Sometimes nausea or vomiting can occur when taking ketamine, especially at medical doses.

At higher doses, ketamine can cause more extreme physical reactions, including a complete loss of mobility and sensation, often referred to as entering a “k-hole,” where the user experiences an intense dissociative state.

Mental Effects of Ketamine

Ketamine can influence the mood, perception, and thought processes of the person taking it:

  • Dissociation – Users may feel detached from their body or the environment. This can range from a mild sense of detachment to a more profound alteration in consciousness.
  • Hallucinations – Visual and auditory hallucinations can occur, often altering the user’s perception of reality.
  • Euphoria – Some users experience intense feelings of happiness and well-being.
  • Altered Perceptions – Experiences of time slowing down and spatial distances being distorted are common.
  • Cognitive Impairments – Difficulty thinking clearly, problems with memory, and disorganized thoughts are often reported.

While not physically addictive like opioids, frequent use of ketamine can lead to psychological dependence. If you or a loved one are dealing with ketamine addiction, an Orange County ketamine treatment center can help.

What Is Ketamine Therapy?

Ketamine therapy is a relatively new form of mental health therapy known as psychedelic-assisted therapy. It’s been used to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD, particularly in cases that have proven resistant to more traditional treatments.

Usually, the therapy involves one or several ketamine dosing sessions at a clinic, usually complemented with integration counseling.

Ketamine can be administered in three primary ways:

  1. Intravenous (IV) Infusions—The most common method for ketamine therapy involves IV infusions, where ketamine is administered directly into the bloodstream. This method allows for precise control over dosage and a quick onset of effects. Treatment usually involves several sessions spread over a few weeks.
  2. Nasal Spray – Esketamine (brand name Spravato), a nasal spray form of ketamine, was approved by the FDA in 2019 for treatment-resistant depression in conjunction with an oral antidepressant. This method allows for easier administration compared to IV infusions.
  3. Sublingual (Under the Tongue) – Some clinics offer ketamine in a sublingual form, which involves placing a tablet under the tongue to dissolve. This method is less invasive than IV infusions.


Ketamine and the Brain

When ketamine is administered, it blocks the brain’s N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. The NMDA receptor helps govern mood, thinking, and pain perception. This induces a relaxed, trance-like state in the patient, allowing them to, with the guidance of a counselor, grapple with the underlying psychological causes of their mental health issue.

Many ketamine therapy patients report rapid and lasting improvements in their systems within just hours or days of treatment. The speed of symptom improvement of ketamine therapy is particularly valuable in patients who are suicidal.

That said, while ketamine often works quickly and in cases other antidepressants don’t, it’s not without drawbacks. It doesn’t work for everyone; some find the side effects disorienting and nauseating, and there is the potential for abuse.

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Is Ketamine Addiction Recovery Possible?

Yes, recovery from ketamine addiction is certainly possible when working with an Orange County treatment center. South Coast Behavioral Health can help you recover from ketamine addiction.

Here’s how the process works:


The first step in addressing ketamine addiction is a thorough assessment. This process helps medical professionals understand the severity of the addiction, any co-occurring mental health disorders, and the overall physical health of the individual. This assessment forms the basis of a personalized treatment plan.


Medical detox in California is essential to ketamine addiction treatment, especially for those who have been using ketamine heavily. Under medical supervision, detox ensures the safety and comfort of the individual as the drug leaves the system. This stage might involve medication to manage withdrawal symptoms, which can include cravings, anxiety, sweating, and irregular heart rhythms.


After detox, ketamine addiction treatment can take place.

This includes:


You’ll also take advantage of various counseling modalities at different treatment levels. Key components of ketamine addiction treatment include behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These therapies help individuals understand the root causes of their addiction, develop coping strategies, manage triggers, and change harmful thought patterns.

Ongoing Support and Aftercare

Recovery from addiction is a long-term process. Aftercare is crucial to maintain sobriety and includes ongoing therapy, support groups like Narcotics Anonymous, and sometimes continued medication management. Many treatment centers in Orange County also offer alumni services where former patients can stay engaged with their recovery community.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with ketamine addiction, reach out to us. We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you feel you’re ready to regain control of your life, call us at 866-881-1184 or fill out our confidential form. You can also request a callback or textback. One of our kind and knowledgeable intake specialists will be ready to answer any questions you might have.

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