WHO Opposes Restricted Access to Ketamine

China's U.N. delegation argued that ketamine poses a health risk when used it is used as a recreational drug, known on the street as "Special K."

The World Health Organization has rejected a request from China to place the anesthetic ketamine, which is being investigated as a therapy for myriad mental illnesses and neurological conditions including depression and epilepsy, under international control, which would restrict access to it.

The request, from China’s United National delegation to the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs, was made in March of last year, argued that ketamine is a health risk to the public when it is used in a recreational fashion. However, ketamine is also used in hospital settings as an analgesic and anesthetic, and widely used veterinarians as an anesthetic for horses. The WHO has put ketamine in its Essential Drug List, meaning the drug has a minimal medical need for basic health care.

However, the WHO recently opposed the Chinese request, saying that ketamine abuse does not “pose a global health threat,” while limiting the drug would adversely impact many parts of the world where ketamine is the only widely available anesthetic and analgesic.

“The medical benefits of ketamine far outweigh potential harm for recreational use,” the WHO said in a statement.

The U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs meets later this year, when it will consider the WHO’s recommendation, and eventually make a decision.


WHO recommends against international control of ketamine. World Health Organization website. http://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/recommends_against_ick/en/. Accessed January 8, 2016.

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor