Tramadol is used similarly to codeine, to treat moderate to moderately severe pain and most types of neuralgia, including trigeminal neuralgia. Tramadol is somewhat pharmacologically similar to levorphanolSNRI activity (other such opioids to do the same are dextropropoxyphene (Darvon) & M1-like molecule tapentadol because of its action on the noradrenergic and serotonergic systems, such as its "atypical" opioid activity. However, health professionals have not endorsed its use for these disorders, claiming it may be used as a unique treatment (only when other treatments failed), and must be used under the control of a psychiatrist. (albeit with much lower μ-agonism), as both opioids are also NMDA-antagonists which also have (Nucynta, a new synthetic atypical opioid made to mimic the agonistic properties of tramadol's metabolite, M1(O-Desmethyltramadol). It has been suggested that tramadol could be effective for alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and phobias
In May 2009, the United States Food and Drug Administration issued a Warning Letter to Johnson & Johnson, alleging that a promotional website commissioned by the manufacturer had "overstated the efficacy" of the drug, and "minimized the serious risks". The company which produced it, the German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal GmbH, were the ones alleged to be guilty of "minimizing" the addictive nature and proposed efficacy of the drug, although it showed little abuse liability in preliminary tests. The 2010 Physicians Desk Reference contains several warnings from the manufacturer, which were not present in prior years. The warnings include more compelling language regarding the addictive potential of tramadol, the possibility of difficulty breathing while on the medication, a new list of more serious side effects, and a notice that tramadol is not to be used in place of opiate medications for addicts. Tramadol is also not to be used in efforts to wean addict patients from opiate drugs, nor to be used to manage long-term opiate addiction.
Tramadol is usually marketed as the hydrochloride salt (tramadol hydrochloride); the tartrate is seen on rare occasions, and rarely (in the US at least) tramadol is available for both injection (intravenous and/or intramuscular) and oral administration. The most well known dosing unit is the 50 mg generic tablet made by several manufacturers. It is also commonly available in conjunction with APAP (Paracetamol, Acetaminophen) as Ultracet, in the form of a smaller dose of 37.5 mg tramadol and 325 mg of APAP. The solutions suitable for injection are used in patient-controlled analgesia pumps under some circumstances, either as the sole agent or along with another agent such as morphine.
Tramadol comes in many forms, including:
Tramadol has been experimentally used in the form of an ingredient in multi-agent topical gels, creams, and solutions for nerve pain, rectal foam, concentrated retention enema, and a skin plaster (transdermal patch) quite similar to those used with lidocaine.
Tramadol has a characteristic and unpleasant taste which is mildly bitter but much less so than morphine and codeine. Oral and sublingual drops and liquid preparations come with and without added flavoring. Its relative effectiveness via transmucosal routes (i.e. sublingual, buccal, rectal) is similar to that of codeine, and, like codeine, it is also metabolized in the liver to stronger metabolites (see below).
The maximum dosage for tramadol in any form is 400 mg per day. Certain manufacturers or formulations have lower maximum doses. For example, Ultracet (37.5 mg/325 mg tramadol/APAP tablets) is capped at 8 tablets per day (300 mg/day). Ultram ER is available in 100, 200, and 300 mg/day doses and is explicitly capped at 300 mg/day as well.
Patients taking SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, etc.), SNRIs (Efexor, etc.), TCAs, MAOIs, or other strong opioids (oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, morphine), as well as the elderly (> 75 years old), pediatric (< 18 years old), and those with severely reduced renal (kidney) or hepatic (liver) function should consult their doctor regarding adjusted dosing or whether to use Tramadol at all.
Tramadol may be used to treat post-operative, injury-related, and chronic (e.g., cancer-related) pain in dogs and cats as well as rabbits, coatis, many small mammals including rats and flying squirrels, guinea pigs, ferrets, and raccoons. Tramadol comes in ampules in addition to the tablets, capsules, powder for reconstitution, and oral syrups and liquids; the fact that its characteristic taste is distasteful to dogs, but can be masked in food, makes for a means of administration. No data that would lead to a definitive determination of the efficacy and safety of tramadol in reptiles or amphibians is available at this time, and, following the pattern of all other drugs, it appears that tramadol can be used to relieve pain in marsupials such as North American opossums, Short-Tailed Opossums, sugar gliders, wallabies, and kangaroos among others.
Tramadol for animals is one of the most reliable and useful active principles available to veterinarians for treating animals in pain. It has a dual mode of action: mu agonism and mono-amine reuptake inhibition, which produces mild anti-anxiety results. Tramadol may be utilized for relieving pain in cats and dogs. This is an advantage because the use of some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory substances in these animals may be dangerous.
When animals are administered tramadol, adverse reactions can occur. The most common are constipation, upset stomach, decreased heart rate. In case of overdose, mental alteration, pinpoint pupils and seizures may appear. In such case, veterinarians should evaluate the correct treatment for these events. Some contraindications have been noted in treated animals taking certain other drugs. Tramadol should not be co-administered with selegiline or any other psychoactive class of medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, or monoamine oxidase inhibitors. In animals, tramadol is removed from the body via liver and kidney excretion. Animals suffering from diseases in these systems should be monitored by a veterinarian, as it may be necessary to adjust the dose.
Dosage and administration of tramadol for animals: in dogs for sufficient analgesia: 1–4 mg/kg PO q8-12h (Hardie, Lascelles et al. 2003) and to control chronic pain in cats: 4 mg/kg PO twice daily (Note: Dose extrapolated from human medicine. Tramadol has not been evaluated for toxicity in cats and has not been used extensively, but early results encouraging) (Lascelles, Robertson et al. 2003).