British vets have expressed relief after the World Health Organisation (WHO) opposed a request by China to place ketamine under international control.

The request was made last March, stating that the drug, which is commonly used as an anaesthetic, poses a public health risk when abused by people for recreational purposes.

Last year H&H reported that equine vets were concerned about the future of the drug, which has been in veterinary use since the early 1970s.

However, it seems that, for now, fears have abated.

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“The committee concluded that ketamine abuse does not pose a global public health threat, while controlling it could limit access to the only anaesthetic and pain killer available to horses in large areas of the developing world,” read a WHO statement.

“The medical benefits of ketamine far outweigh potential harm from recreational use.”

Polly Taylor, an expert in veterinary anaesthesia, said this was “very good news”, arguing that individual countries should have their own laws.

“The WHO’s views are not unexpected — we would be in deep trouble if they had changed to recommending any form of international control,” she told H&H.

She added that this is the first step in countering the Chinese recommendation — the “real crunch” will be the UN meeting of the CND (Committee for Narcotic Drugs) in March.

“There is a continual need to spread the word that ketamine is an essential veterinary and human anaesthetic whose good impact globally far outweighs its relatively trivial bad impact as a drug of abuse,” she added.