Introduced in the 1970’s, its relatively short duration and dissociative properties make ketamine one of the more popular “club drugs” with young people today. Recently, the FDA approved ketamine for use with specific cases of severe depression. The number of therapy treatment centers that opened in the wake of this announcement expanded the public’s access to the drug as well as increasing the risk of its diversion onto the streets.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine (Ketalar) is a Schedule III non-narcotic drug used primarily as a general anesthetic in hospitals and veterinary clinics. A clear liquid, it is administered intravenously and can be used alongside other anesthetics. A nasal spray version named Spravato (esketamine) was developed to make delivery more practical and convenient in mental health clinics.
Street versions are frequently the subject of substance abuse. Ketamine is sold as a white or off-white powder distilled from the liquid form. It is less commonly pressed into tablets. The powder form is most often snorted, although it is also sprinkled into cigarettes and inhaled. The liquid form is injected intramuscularly or poured into a drink.
Street names for the “club drugs” version of ketamine include:
- Cat Tranquilizer
- Kit Kat
- Special K
- Super K
- Vitamin K
Ketamine is used to great effect in emergency situations. It calms agitated patients and numbs pain, facilitating the treatment of traumatic injuries like dislocated joints and fractures. In the mental health field, people with suicidal ideation report a steep decline in thoughts of self harm within days of a ketamine infusion.
Its health benefits are precisely what makes it a prime candidate for drug abuse. These include:
- Feeling relaxed and chill
- Dissociation from reality
- Out-of-body experiences
The effects typically last about an hour, but some aspects can linger through the following day. Depending on the method of delivery, its rapid onset ranges anywhere from immediate to 30 minutes. This makes it an alternative to other hallucinogens like LSD or PCP whose initial effects can last hours.
Ketamine also sees high use as a date rape drug. In certain doses, it renders a person immobile and produces short-term memory loss. Sexual predators take advantage of people already under its influence or target specific individuals by slipping liquid ketamine into a victim’s open or unattended drink.
Signs of Ketamine Abuse and Addiction
Abusing ketamine carries a number of risks and can lead to drug addiction. Some of the more common signs include:
- Abdominal pain
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Mood/personality changes
- Financial, work and social problems
The heart is especially at risk from ketamine because it increases heart rate and blood pressure. The result can be fatal for anyone with pre-existing heart conditions like arrhythmias, murmurs, or high blood pressure . Mixing ketamine with other drugs–prescription opioids, barbiturates, alcohol, or even caffeine–is a popular practice among young people. This can also prove fatal, particularly for those already prone to alcohol abuse or other drug addictions.
And the danger doesn’t stop there. Coming down from ketamine causes some people to experience extreme agitation and confusion. Paired with its effectiveness as a painkiller, this produces unsafe conditions where injury, to oneself or others, can quickly escalate into emergency situations.
Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms
Stopping after taking ketamine regularly has its consequences. While the physical withdrawal symptoms reportedly aren’t as intense as with other drugs, the psychological effects are equally as debilitating. Abusers of ketamine may experience:
- Intense cravings
- Loss of appetite
- Chills and sweating
- Restlessness and tremors
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
Long Term Side Effects of Ketamine Abuse
The health effects of chronic ketamine use may result in lasting or permanent conditions. Some of the physical and psychological symptoms include:
- Poor sense of smell from snorting
- Abnormal liver or kidney function
- Ketamine bladder syndrome (causes incontinence and may require surgery)
- Abdominal pain
- Tolerance (leads to drug overdose)
- Mood/personality changes
- Poor memory, thinking and concentration
- Family, work and social problems
Ketamine Addiction Treatment
If you or your loved ones are struggling with substance abuse, please contact an addiction center near you to discuss the many types of help available. Treatment for ketamine addiction should be conducted in a clinical setting where trained professionals are on hand to assist in the event of an emergency, and to help guide the recovery process.