Ketamine in the Treatment of Migraines: A Review of Current Research

Migraine headaches are the second leading cause of disability worldwide and are responsible for significant morbidity, reduction in the quality of life, and loss of productivity on a global scale.  – National Library of Medicine

Migraines, characterized by intense, throbbing headaches often accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light, and sound, pose a significant challenge for some individuals who experience these symptoms on a regular basis. Conventional treatments, while effective for many, leave a substantial number of patients with unmet therapeutic needs. In recent years, ketamine, traditionally an anesthetic and analgesic agent, has garnered attention for its potential in migraine management. Current research provides an overview of  the efficacy of ketamine in the treatment of migraines.

Introduction to Ketamine for Migraine Pain Management:

Migraines, a prevalent neurological disorder, affect millions globally, impacting quality of life and productivity. While various treatments exist, a subset of patients experiences inadequate relief. Ketamine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, presents a novel avenue for migraine intervention due to its unique pharmacological properties.

Ketamine’s Mechanism of Action:

Ketamine’s primary mechanism of action involves blocking the NMDA receptors, modulating glutamate signaling, and influencing neuroplasticity. These effects may interrupt the cascade of events leading to migraine development and alleviate symptoms.

Clinical Studies:

  • Preliminary Trials: Early studies exploring ketamine for migraines have shown promising results. Intravenous (IV) ketamine infusions demonstrated rapid and sustained relief in some patients, especially those with chronic or refractory migraines.
  • Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs): Several RCTs have investigated ketamine’s efficacy in acute migraine attacks. While some trials reported significant reductions in pain intensity and duration, others found mixed results, highlighting the need for further investigation.
  • Long-Term Effects: Limited research has delved into the long-term effects of ketamine for migraines. Questions regarding optimal dosages, frequency of administration, and potential side effects remain areas of active exploration.

Patient Profiles:

Certain patient profiles may benefit more from ketamine treatment. Individuals with chronic migraines, medication-resistant cases, or those intolerant to standard therapies may find ketamine to be a valuable alternative.

Safety Considerations:

Ketamine’s safety profile, well-established in anesthesia, is a subject of ongoing investigation in migraine treatment. Adverse effects, including dissociative symptoms and psychotomimetic effects, necessitate careful consideration in treatment planning.

Future Directions:

The evolving landscape of ketamine for migraines warrants continued research. Future studies should focus on optimizing treatment protocols, elucidating ketamine’s long-term safety, and identifying patient populations most likely to benefit.

While the research on ketamine for migraines is promising, it is crucial to approach its potential integration into clinical practice with caution. The multifaceted nature of migraines, coupled with the need for further well-designed trials, underscores the importance of ongoing research to establish ketamine’s role in migraine management definitively. As the scientific community continues to unravel the complexities of this neurological disorder, ketamine may emerge as a valuable addition to the therapeutic armamentarium for migraine treatment.


Chah, N., Jones, M., Milord, S., Al-Eryani, K., & Enciso, R. (2021). Efficacy of ketamine in the treatment of migraines and other unspecified primary headache disorders compared to placebo and other interventions: a systematic review. Journal of dental anesthesia and pain medicine21(5), 413–429.

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