Evidence: Daily Mail
Ketamine, widely known as a “horse tranquilizer” and “recreational drug,” can kill cancer cells, according to promising laboratory tests, scientists report.
Ketamine is widely used in veterinary medicine to anesthetize animals because it induces pain relief and a trance-like state with sedation. Despite its medical benefits, the drug has a controversial reputation due to its recreational use. Risks associated with ketamine include addiction, hallucinations and, in extreme cases, death, as “Friends” star Matthew Perry died last October from “severe effects” of ketamine.
A study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology found that ketamine can inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells, particularly in cases of brain and lung cancer.
Although it has not been proven to work in humans, scientists from Imperial College London, Hirosaki University, Nippon Medical College in Japan and the National Medical Research Center in China hope to see similar results in further laboratory studies and in patients.
Before ketamine can be presented as a treatment, in-depth studies involving thousands of cancer patients will be needed, meaning any progress will be years away.
Potential anticancer effects of ketamine
In laboratory experiments, human lung and brain cancer cells removed from the body and grown in a humidified incubator were exposed to different concentrations of ketamine. The scientists photographed the samples and used a laser to analyze them before they were exposed to the drug and 24 hours after exposure.
The results showed that the growth and proliferation of cancer cells were suppressed, with the greatest effect seen in cells exposed to high doses of ketamine.
This means that the cancer cells' activity has significantly decreased and they have become less aggressive, the team said.
The results also revealed a significant increase in the number of cells during late stages of apoptosis, when tumors self-destruct.
The drug exerts its effects by blocking a specific receptor called N-methyl-D-aspartate, or NMDA for short, which plays an important role in controlling tumor size, its spread and the severity of cancer.
The team noted that the study used “relatively high” concentrations of ketamine. The results don't necessarily mean the drug works the same way for patients, they said.
Although this research has yielded promising preliminary results, the scientific community urges caution, as effects observed in the laboratory do not automatically equate to similar effects in human patients.
More extensive studies are needed before Ketamine can be considered a potential cancer treatment. These additional investigations include rigorous trials in cancer patients, indicating that significant improvements will take years.