Sunday, March 13, 2016 - Sarah Bishop Sarah Bishop

Worldwide access to ketamine for medical and veterinary use is on the line this week. The WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) unequivocally recommends that ketamine should not be placed under international control. They concluded that its abuse does not pose a global public health threat and that such control would limit access for those who use it as a life-saving anaesthetic. However, the 59th UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is happening now (14 - 22 March 2016,  Vienna) and is likely to reconsider a proposal that ketamine be placed under international scheduling, a move which would effectively prevent access to it for those who most need it.

Ketamine’s value as an essential medicine is unknown to many and the proposal for international control stems, by and large, on the widespread misconception that it is simply 'a recreational drug'. As those involved in the veterinary sector, we must ensure that the global perception of ketamine is indeed that of an essential  medicine and that its place as a recreational drug pales into insignificance.

Ketamine is the only anaesthetic suitable for use in low and middle income countries (LMIC): it is a remarkably safe anaesthetic which has been used worldwide for more than 50 years, in both medical and veterinary practice. It does not depress respiration or the circulation. It can be used without oxygen, ventilators, an electricity supply and the other support systems required for other anaesthetics. Ketamine also has particular value 'in the field' - for trauma, traffic and sporting injuries, in natural disasters and in zones of conflict – indeed in any situation with limited facilities. In higher income countries (HIC) ketamine is used for virtually all equine anaesthesia, for exotic species and farm animals, as well as for pain relief in humans and veterinary species. It is also increasingly used to treat chronic pain and has recently taken on an important role in human mental health in treating depression.

The side effects of bladder damage from chronic ketamine misuse are extremely unpleasant, but affect only a few who take very high doses.  Most recreational users suffer few ill effects.  Recreational use of ketamine should not prevent millions from surgery under the only anaesthetic in LMIC, or its use in disaster and conflict trauma, and in veterinary medicine.

Please support WHO’s analysis and spread the word that ketamine is an essential medicine. It has a much, much greater positive impact on the world as a therapeutic agent than its negative impact as a drug of abuse.

Please go to and for ways that you can help.

Sign the petition at

This post was last updated on