Ketamine: Chemical | Organic composition

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 4:43 pm

The chemical composition of ketamine hydrochloride is C13H16CINO. The formal name for the chemical is 2-(2-chlorophenyl)-(methylamino)-cyclohexanone hydrochloride. The chemical structure and effects of ketamine are similar to those of PCP, which it was developed to replace, but ketamine is much less potent and its effects are of much shorter duration.
Ketamine is characterized as a dissociative anesthetic. The term “dissociative” refers to the severing of normal thought processes from consciousness, making the user feel removed from the physical body. Ketamine chemically interferes with the brain’s ability to monitor and regulate higher functions, such as memory, perception, and motor activity. The drug has little impact, meanwhile, on lower functions that regulate the heart rate and breathing, which is why it is such an effective surgical anesthetic.
Ketamine is a non-competitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, meaning that it interferes with the brain’s ability to receive, process, and broadcast certain signals. Specifically, ketamine interferes with the ability of the receptors to receive escitatory amino acids or EAAs, the chemical neurotransmitters in the brain that make brain cells fire in tandem with millions of others. The simultaneous firing of cells along established pathways are what allows the brain to regulate movement, register pain, recall a memory, or initiate any multitude of the brain’s higher functions.
Scientists are only now beginning to discover why ketamine works the way it does. NDMA receptors in the human brain are densely localized in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus, areas that are important for higher functions like memory creation and retrieval. Ketamine, by blocking NDMA receptors, effectively disables the normal functioning of the hippocampus, accounting for short-term disorientation and memory loss.
A 1998 study using data from positron emission tomography or PET scans on humans also demonstrated that ketamine stimulates the release of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical. Most drugs of abuse spur the forced release of dopamine, reinforcing pleasurable associations in the user.
Ketamine belongs to the same family of drugs as dextromethorphan (DXM), which is found in some brands of over-the-counter cough syrup; nitrous oxide, better known as “whippets,” so named because of the metal whipped cream chargers the gas is commonly packaged in; and phencyclidine (PCP), also known as angel dust.
Ketamine also shares a close chemical kinship to prescription drugs Tiletamine and Memantine. Tileta-mine is used in combination with zolazepam as a veterinary anesthetic under the brand names Zoletic and Tela-zol. Memantine is derived from the anti-influenza drug amantadine, and also works to block NDMA receptors. Memantine has been approved for use in Parkinson’s disease and dementia in the elderly. It is also being used experimentally with AIDS patients for the treatment of HIV encephalopathy.

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