WHO Opposes Chinese Request to Restrict Access to Ketamine

China's U.N. delegation has argued that ketamine is a health risk when it is used in a recreational fashion.

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 including depression, 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 widely used by veterinarians as an anesthetic for horses. Also, the WHO has put ketamine in its Essential Drug List, meaning the drug has a minimal medical need for basic health care.

“Since the majority of equine anesthesia is conducted in the field, ketamine is the ideal drug for intravenous anesthesia because of its high reliability and unique pharmacokinetic properties,” Rene Carlson, DVM, president of the World Veterinary Association, told theHorse.com, a website on equine health care.

However, the WHO recently opposed the Chinese request, saying that ketmaine 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 benefit 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.