The Reemergence of Ketamine for Treatment in Critically Ill Adults

Kimberly P. Hurth, PharmD, BCCCP; Anthony Jaworski, PharmD, BCCCP; Kristen B. Thomas, PharmD, BCPS; William B. Kirsch, PharmD, BCPS; Michael A. Rudoni, PharmD, BCPS, BCCCP; Kevin M. Wohlfarth, PharmD, BCPS, BCCCP, BCCP


Crit Care Med. 2020;48(6):899-911. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Objectives: To assess the evidence and discuss the risks and clinical relevance of ketamine for the treatment of various disease states impacting the adult critically ill population.

Data Sources: A literature review was performed using PubMed evaluating primary literature published until August 2018.

Study Selection: Case reports, observational studies (cohort, case-control), and randomized controlled trials involving patients 18 years and older in a nonperioperative setting using either IV or intramuscular ketamine were included for analysis. Uses of ketamine discussed focused on critically ill patients in the ICU and emergency department settings.

Data Extraction: Included studies were evaluated for dosing, outcomes, and adverse effects of ketamine. For each study, the design, population, intervention, investigated outcomes, and results were assessed.

Data Synthesis: The evidence was organized according to use of ketamine, which included pain, sedation, status asthmaticus, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, status epilepticus, and acute behavioral psychologic disturbances. Evaluation of the evidence was based on the included primary literature along with any related guideline recommendations.

Conclusions: Ketamine has suggested potential benefit in several disease states impacting critically ill patients including pain, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, status epilepticus, and acute agitation. Further supporting evidence is needed to validate its use in the setting of critical illness.