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Ketamine Breakthrough: Study Finds It May Treat Severe Brain Injury in Children

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A groundbreaking new study, published in the journal Critical Care Medicine, has found that ketamine might just hold the key to reducing pressure inside the skulls of children suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Children aged 1 month to 16 years old received the controversial treatment, breaking a two-decade-long stigma surrounding ketamine treatment.

Ketamine, commonly used in veterinary science and known for its controversial recreational uses, has been avoided for TBI patients due to fears that it could increase intracranial pressure (ICP). However, a team of researchers decided to challenge that assumption, examining the effects of ketamine on ICP in 33 children aged between one month and 16 years, all of whom had been admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) with severe TBIs.

The results were astonishing: ketamine did not raise ICP as previously thought but in some cases, actually lowered it. In 11 patients experiencing ICP crises, ketamine administration was associated with an overall decrease in ICP. This significant breakthrough indicates that ketamine might be recognized as a powerful tool for preventing and treating high ICP in vulnerable young patients.

Traditional ICP treatments often involve surgery, which can place young children at greater risk of permanent injury. The findings from this study, albeit preliminary, have the potential to change the way medical professionals think about the relationship between ketamine and intracranial pressure.

The study’s co-author, John C. Wellons, highlights that more research is needed before fully understanding the potential benefits of ketamine for children with TBIs. Lead study author, Michael Wolf, MD, plans to study the effects of ketamine in larger numbers of children with traumatic brain injury, partnering with colleagues at other children’s hospitals.

Ketamine research has made strides in recent years, with studies finding its effectiveness in reducing suicidal ideation in patients with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. A recent meta-analysis of 83 studies by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom verifies that ketamine treatment can provide quick and temporary relief from depression and may also alleviate suicidal ideation and other symptoms of mental health conditions.

As ketamine research continues to grow and defy the stigma, it remains to be seen if it will become an essential tool in the treatment of severe brain injury and other mental health conditions.

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