May 22, 2023

The Origins of Ketamine

The Origins of Ketamine

Who, How and When Ketamine Was Invented

Most of the medications that we take today from vitamins for everyday wellbeing to ketamine treatments for depression are man-made. Even when the primary ingredient for a medication is naturally-derived, intervention is often required to actually develop a compound into a therapy. 

That means drugs are discovered at some point. Someone stumbles upon a compound with potentially therapeutic benefits and researches further to document what influences effectiveness and the results. It’s a common origin story in science, and ketamine is a perfect example. 

When Was Ketamine Discovered

Ketamine is a relatively new medication compared to many other drugs. Like so many medical breakthroughs, ketamine was discovered while researchers were examining something else. Chemists were studying an anesthetic called phencyclidine in the early 1960s. It was an effective anesthetic, but the problem was it created drawn out states of delirium, making it undesirable for human use.

In their pursuit to find an alternative for phencyclidine, a chemist discovered ketamine in 1962. It was determined to be safe enough to try on humans, which is what happened in 1964. The first clinical study on ketamine was published in 1966. It showed that ketamine could be safely used as a human anesthetic without the strong delirium that was associated with phencyclidine. 

Fun Fact: Ketamine was originally called CI-581.

Who Invented Ketamine

The chemist who discovered ketamine was Calvin Stevens. He was an organic chemist that acted as a consultant for Parke Davis Company, the organization that discovered phencyclidine.

Stevens may have been the person to discover ketamine, but two professors were the first to study what it could do to humans. Dr. Edward Domino and Dr. Guenter Corssen of the University of Michigan conducted the first human clinical study that involved 20 people. After proving ketamine is safe, they conducted another larger-scale study with 130 participants in surgical settings. This is the landmark 1966 study published on ketamine as an anesthetic that led to ketamine’s FDA approval.

How Ketamine Became a Psychopharmaceutical 

Ketamine’s beginnings are in pharmacology given that it was discovered while researchers were looking for a less potent version of phencyclidine. The intention from the very start was to develop a medication. 

Since ketamine is just 10% as strong as phencyclidine while providing the same anesthetic properties it was quickly identified as a potential medication. After proving safety and efficacy, the FDA approved the ketamine medication called Ketalar in 1970.

Because ketamine is safer than other medications in some regards, it’s not surprising that researchers continued looking for other ways to use ketamine. Scientists knew early on that ketamine was a hallucinogen that worked as an anesthetic by putting people in another state of consciousness. But it wasn’t until 2000 that scientists began exploring ketamine as a psychopharmaceutical. That was the year the Yale School of Medicine published the first ever randomized controlled clinical trial gauging ketamine’s effects on depression. 

The results were too astonishing to ignore in those first studies. The research showed just one dose of ketamine caused drastic improvements in only 24 hours for many of the study participants. Unfortunately, it took a decade and dozens of additional research studies for the medical community at large to begin opening up to ketamine. 

Since then in-office and at-home use of ketamine has been approved for treatment-resistant depression and is used by doctors off-label for many other ailments and disorders. Ketamine’s fast-acting therapeutic benefits have been so pronounced it’s prompted leaders in the medical industry to call ketamine the one of the most important psychiatric therapies to be discovered in decades. The more we continue to learn about ketamine the more true that observation appears to be.

If you’d like to know more about ketamine and how it’s used today to treat a variety of mental health disorders contact the team at Choose Ketamine. We help people make the best decisions for their health by expanding the therapeutic offerings and making at-home ketamine treatments available to millions of people across the country.