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What Is Ketamine?

If you have a medical or surgical procedure, your healthcare provider may use an anesthetic called ketamine hydrochloride (Ketalar®). But what is ketamine and how does it work?
This prescription drug can be used as a general anesthetic during certain medical procedures. It can also be used to induce anesthesia (to "put you under") before other anesthetics are administered, or used in combination with other anesthetics. It is given as an injection into a vein or muscle.
Although it is not entirely known how ketamine works, it is known that it affects certain brain pathways to quickly produce a general state of anesthesia (loss of sensation and awareness) and pain relief. Unlike many other general anesthetics, ketamine maintains respiration (breathing) and a normal or slightly increased muscle tone. However, it is a short-acting anesthetic, lasting between 5 and 25 minutes.
(Click Ketamine for a complete overview of what ketamine is used for. This article also deals with potential side effects, safety warnings to keep in mind, and why ketamine may not be the best choice for everyone.)
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