Most recently, ketamine played an integral role in HBO’s summer murder mystery “The Night Of” — Andrea and Naz took some and hooked up. He blacked out and awoke to find her stabbed to death in her bed. And he doesn’t remember if he did it.
But in many countries around the world, the hallucinogen has another purpose: It’s the only drug available to sedate people during surgeries or to help with pain after operations.
“Ketamine is a safe, simple and cheap anesthetic,” says Dr. Jannicke Mellin-Olsen, an anesthesiologist at Baerum Hospital in Oslo, Norway. “It is vital to global health.”
And she is trying to keep it that way.
Mellin-Olsen was just elected as one of two presidents of the World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists. At the group’s annual meeting in Hong Kong last week, she called on the U.N. to keep ketamine free of global trade restrictions and not to treat the drug as a controlled narcotic, like heroin and cocaine.
“The experience with restricting other medicines, like morphine, is that governments put so strict procedures for acquiring it, that it in effect, it becomes unavailable,” Mellin-Olsen says.
“That would be catastrophic for millions of people,” says Miguel Trelles, an anesthesia adviser for Doctors Without Borders, who coordinates their surgery and emergency medicine unit. “I’m not saying ketamine is a panacea,” he says, “but it saves lives.”
When you have surgery in the U.S., doctors give you a cocktail of drugs to knock you unconscious. Some of these drugs lower your blood pressure and suppress your cough reflex — which keeps you from choking on your own vomit. So doctors put a tube in your throat to make sure your airway is always open. They also have to monitor your blood pressure and breathing throughout the operation.
But with ketamine, these fancy monitoring …