Metabolism and Effects of Ketamine and its Metabolites: Norketamine, Dehydronorketamine, and Hydroxyketamine

Science of Ketamine

Metabolism and Effects of Ketamine and its Metabolites: Norketamine, Dehydronorketamine, and Hydroxyketamine

Written by

Isha Team


October 9, 2023


October 27, 2023

Ketamine is a medication that can be administered through various routes, including oral (swallowed) and buccal (held in the mouth) administration. The way ketamine is metabolized can vary depending on how it is administered.

  • Oral Administration (Swallowed): When you swallow ketamine, it enters your digestive system and is subject to first-pass metabolism in the liver. First-pass metabolism refers to the initial metabolism that a drug undergoes as it passes through the liver before entering the systemic circulation. In the liver, ketamine is metabolized primarily by the hepatic enzyme system into various metabolites, including norketamine, dehydronorketamine, and hydroxyketamine. These metabolites are then further metabolized and eventually excreted through the urine.

  • Buccal Administration (Absorbed Buccally): When you hold ketamine in your mouth and allow it to be absorbed buccally (through the lining of your cheeks), the drug can bypass the first-pass metabolism in the liver to some extent. This is because the drug is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the oral cavity. As a result, the metabolites that are formed through liver metabolism might be present in lower concentrations compared to oral administration, since the drug avoids the liver's initial metabolic processes.

In both cases, the primary metabolite of ketamine is norketamine, which retains some of the anesthetic and psychoactive properties of ketamine but is generally less potent. The pharmacokinetics and metabolism of ketamine can be affected by various factors, including individual differences in metabolism, co-administration of other drugs, and the dose and frequency of administration.

Ketamine undergoes extensive metabolism in the liver during first-pass metabolism, leading to the formation of several metabolites. The primary metabolite of ketamine is norketamine (also known as desmethylketamine). Here's an overview of the metabolites, their effects, half-life, and route of elimination compared to ketamine:

Norketamine (Desmethylketamine):

  • Metabolism: Norketamine is formed through the demethylation of ketamine by hepatic enzymes.
  • Effects: Norketamine retains some of the anesthetic and psychoactive properties of ketamine, although it is generally less potent. Its effects can include sedation and dissociation.
  • Half-life: The half-life of norketamine is longer than that of ketamine, ranging from 2 to 3 hours.
  • Route of Elimination: Norketamine is further metabolized and primarily eliminated through the urine.


  • Metabolism: Dehydronorketamine is formed through the reduction of norketamine.
  • Effects: Dehydronorketamine is less studied in terms of its effects compared to ketamine and norketamine. It may have similar but milder effects.
  • Half-life: Information about the half-life of dehydronorketamine is limited, but it likely has a longer half-life than ketamine.
  • Route of Elimination: It is primarily eliminated through the urine.


  • Metabolism: Hydroxyketamine is formed through hydroxylation of ketamine.
  • Effects: Hydroxyketamine's effects are not as well-characterized as those of ketamine and norketamine. It may also exhibit anesthetic and psychoactive properties.
  • Half-life: The half-life of hydroxyketamine is longer than that of ketamine, similar to norketamine.
  • Route of Elimination: It is primarily eliminated through the urine.

Other Metabolites:

  • Ketamine can also be metabolized into other minor metabolites, but their effects, half-lives, and routes of elimination are less well-studied and understood.

In comparison to ketamine:

  • Effects: The metabolites, especially norketamine, can have similar but generally less potent effects compared to ketamine itself.
  • Half-life: The metabolites tend to have longer half-lives than ketamine, meaning they stay in the body for a longer period of time.
  • Route of Elimination: The primary route of elimination for both ketamine and its metabolites is through the urine.

Understanding the metabolic pathways of ketamine and its resultant metabolites holds crucial significance in both medical and therapeutic contexts. These metabolites, particularly norketamine, dehydronorketamine, and hydroxyketamine, play a role in influencing the effects experienced by patients. Norketamine, for instance, retains some of the sedative and dissociative properties of ketamine, although to a lesser extent. It may contribute to prolonged periods of dizziness or grogginess, which can impact patients' post-administration experiences. Dehydronorketamine and hydroxyketamine, while less studied, are thought to have similar anesthetic and psychoactive effects, potentially influencing patients' overall responses and recovery. As these metabolites exhibit longer half-lives compared to ketamine itself, understanding their impact on patients' well-being and recovery is essential for optimizing treatment protocols and managing potential side effects.

It's important to note that the specifics of metabolism can be quite complex and can vary from person to person. If you are using ketamine for medical reasons, it's best to follow the instructions provided by your healthcare provider to ensure safe and effective use. If you have questions about the metabolism of ketamine or its different routes of administration, consulting a healthcare professional or pharmacist would be advisable.

Learn More

Sign up
for the
Isha Health

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Rapamycin and Ketamine: A Promising Combination for Depression Treatment?

Wednesday journal club - Exploring the Impact of Low-Dose Oral Ketamine Treatment on EEG Power Spectra in Major Depressive Disorder with Chronic Suicidality

Navigating Alcohol Withdrawal and Exploring the Potential of Ketamine in AUD Treatment

Antidepressants 101

"Is ketamine a psychedelic?: Unveiling the Unique Mechanisms of Action"

The Latest From Isha Health