Ketamine Addiction and Abuse

Ketamine is often referred to as a ‘date rape drug’ because of its ability to cause temporary paralysis. People also use it recreationally and its abuse can lead to addiction. While it is effective in medical application, ketamine is abused for its dissociative effects. It’s important to seek help for ketamine abuse, especially if it has progressed to full-blown dependence.

If you or someone you love has been abusing the drug, seek professional help immediately. You can also call one of our helplines to find a safe, reliable rehab facility for treatment and aftercare.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine or ‘K’ is a powerful dissociative anaesthetic, which means it produces the feeling of detachment or ‘leaving one’s body’. It is common in veterinary medicine, but the drug has traversed to the party scene, where it is consumed for the high it induces.

Ketamine is available in various forms, such as:

  • Liquid
  • White powder
  • Pills

The dissociative effects of ketamine are so strong that people use it to induce temporary paralysis. When taken, the user can experience hallucinations (visual and auditory manifestations). As an anaesthetic, ketamine can reduce physical sensations, so the user is awake, but unable to feel anything or move their limbs, or even speak. This is what makes it popular amongst those experiencing physical and emotional pain.

Like LSD or other hallucinatory drugs, the effects of ketamine are varied and largely unpredictable. Although it causes euphoria, its hallucinations can be particularly frightening. People who mix ketamine with other depressants – such as heroin or alcohol – increase the likelihood of suffering respiratory depression, which can cause death in severe cases.

Furthermore, the temporary paralysis prevents the user from clearing their airway, and this can lead to choking or death by asphyxiation.

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Pharmacology of ketamine

For over 50 years, ketamine has proved to be a safe anaesthetic drug, with strong analgesic properties. S(+) – ketamine is the active enantiomer. The drug is mostly metabolised in an active metabolite, norketamine. During ‘dissociative anaesthesia’, sensory inputs may extend to cortical receptive parts, but fail to be felt in certain associative areas.

Ketamine also intensifies the descending, inhibiting serotoninergic pathway, which is responsible for the anti-depressive (high) effects experienced by the user. The analgesic effects for plasma concentration are much lower (10X) than hypnotic concentrations.

Ketamine reduces the ‘wind-up’ effect, and the antagonism is more critical if the N-Methyl D-Aspartate (NDMA) channel has been previously unlocked by the glutamate binding. Activating the NDMA receptor is responsible for the more specialised properties of ketamine.

While lethal in recreational use/abuse, ketamine does not induce neurotoxicity in clinical practice. The consequences of repeated administration and high doses are known to be potentially dangerous. For example, cognitive disturbances are common amongst chronic users of the drug, as well as abnormalities in the brain’s white matter.

Animal tests have shown that neurodegeneration is a potential long-term risk of using anaesthetics in new-born and young paediatric patients.

Street names of ketamine

In the UK, Ketamine is a Class B drug. Because of its illicit nature, dealers and users have come up with several monikers to discuss the drug between one another. Some typical street names are:

  • Cat tranquiliser
  • Cat Valium
  • K
  • Vitamin K
  • Purple
  • Kit Kat
  • Jet

These names are common in clubs and raves where ketamine is widely sought and abused. Besides the drug itself, ketamine ‘high’ also has its nicknames. They include:

  • K-hole
  • K-land
  • God place
  • Baby food

The term ‘K-hole’ is used to describe that lucid experience users feel when they use ketamine. The dissociative effect of ketamine makes users feel as if they are outside, watching themselves through a ‘hole’.

Who Abuses Ketamine?

According to the National Drug Intelligence Centre, ketamine is primarily used by ‘teenagers and young adults’. Individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 accounted for 74% of ketamine emergency cases reported in the US in the year 2000.

In addition, ketamine use is generally high amongst secondary school students. Nearly 3% of high school students used the drug at least once in the past year. Because many teenagers do not realise how potentially dangerous abusing the drug can be, they take it during parties for its intense side effects.

Ketamine abuse is not exclusive to teens and adolescents alone, as some older adults still use ketamine. It is also used by sexual predators to immobilise their victims. Advise your teens to be wary of open drinks, such as the punch mix available at parties.

What is the Ketamine Addiction Potential of an Everyday User?

Ketamine abuse is very easy; you can become addicted without knowing it, because the psychedelic properties of the drug are misleading. Unlike other drugs, you are not really seeking a physical ‘high’, but the feelings that follow such a ‘high’.

If you are an everyday ketamine user, the potential for addiction is extremely high. At this point, the chances you are abusing it are high. Ketamine addiction is mainly psychological.

General symptoms of Ketamine Addiction

The effect of ketamine lasts only for a short time. If you are a user, one of the major symptoms you’ll experience is the blockage of pain. So, if someone doesn’t react to pain as they normally should, they are probably under the influence.

Other symptoms include:

  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Laboured breathing
  • Mood swings
  • General feeling of dissociation/detachment
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Impaired memory
  • Depression
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The most Dangerous Outcome of Ketamine Abuse

Severe respiratory depression is one of the most dangerous adverse effects of ketamine abuse. Consuming large doses of the drug can lead to very shallow breathing or even respiratory collapse. Oxygen deprivation can cause brain damage, falling into a coma or even death if not treated in time.

Causes of Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine addiction is common amongst those chasing a psychological high. With teenagers, it starts with peer pressure and usage at parties. The dissociative effect is what most people like to feel, but you can become addicted by repeatedly using the drug. The brain’s reward pathway develops a tolerance that increases the user’s dosage with subsequent uses. Building a tolerance to anaesthetic substances ultimately results in addiction.

Signs of Ketamine Use, Addiction and Dependence

The signs and symptoms of ketamine abuse are intense and easily recognisable. If you use it in moderation, you will feel lethargic and possibly experience hallucinations. The Centre for Substance Abuse Research lists the following as symptoms of ketamine abuse:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Delirium
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)

On the psychological side, users may exhibit aggressive behaviour as a side-effect. Extremely high doses can lead to the ‘K-hole’ phenomenon – an out-of-body experience, after which a feeling of depression sets in.

When you use ketamine, it stimulates the part of the brain responsible for registering pleasure. This euphoric effect is remembered, and subsequent usage creates a tolerance that builds dependence. In long-term exposure, drug craving, high tolerance and flashbacks are usually experienced by users. People also describe a physical and psychological dependence associated with ketamine abuse.

Ketamine Bladder Syndrome

One of the long-term adverse effects of ketamine abuse is damage to the bladder and urinary tract. This problem can lead to a condition known as Ketamine bladder syndrome.It causes an inability to fully control the bladder – incontinence. The condition is also responsible for bloody urine and ulcers in the bladder.

Ketamine as a Party Drug

We have discussed how ketamine is a popular drug amongst teenagers. Parties and nightclubs remain very common places of distribution and usage. This is because of the psychedelic effects which are deemed intense in physically charged atmospheres. The effect of ketamine is short-acting and can lead to bingeing in an attempt to prolong the euphoric effect.

Although ketamine is generally a dissociative drug, people find it effective for partying, because they mix it with other substances such as alcohol and depressants. However, if you mix ketamine, you will be exposing yourself to greater danger and increasing dependence.

Taking Ketamine When You Have a Medical Condition

Ketamine is originally an anaesthetic used in veterinary medicine. It’s also considered to be relatively safe for medical use, because it doesn’t depress the circulatory system or affect the protective airway responses, as many anaesthetic medicines do.

However, the clinical use of ketamine has been linked to an increase in inter-cranial pressure and blood pressure. If you have any of the following conditions, you cannot take ketamine at all:

  • Brain swelling
  • Glaucoma
  • Brain tumour or lesions

Other conditions to consider include hypertension, chest pain, thyroid disease and coronary artery disease.

The effect of the drug is felt more in people over 65 years old. If you suffer from allergies, ketamine intake can pose severe risks. It should never be used recreationally.

Combining Ketamine with Other Substances

Ketamine toxicity alone is very risky, but combining it with other substances, such as cannabis or alcohol greatly maximises the health risks. In its liquid form, ketamine can easily be combined with alcohol or added to cannabis or other tobacco products.

Because it is also a depressant, mixing ketamine with alcohol (or other depressants) is very dangerous. It can lead to reduced heart rate or poor respiratory functions. As a powder, ketamine is often mixed with other powdered substances, such as MDMA. The latter is a stimulant and can produce dangerous effects. Other drugs include psychedelics like LSD and DMT.

How the Method of Ketamine Abuse Can Affect Addiction

Ketamine is an ephemeral drug, so its euphoric effect is typically short-lived. This means you will likely feel sober again after a few minutes. To extend the anaesthetic feeling, many users pop it continuously. However, bingeing the drug this way floods the brain with neurotransmitters and it increases tolerance. Building tolerance to a substance like ketamine automatically leads to dependence and addiction.

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Diabetes and Ketamine

Scientists have attempted to use the short-acting anaesthetic properties of ketamine to treat pain in diabetes. However, ketamine treatment has been associated with various side-effects, including symptoms related to the central nervous system, liver injury and cardiovascular stimulation.

The results revealed that doctors treating diabetic patients with ketamine should be more attentive to the influence of the drug on hyperglycaemia; it is a major trigger of diabetic complications such as micro vascular complication and neuropathy.

Ketamine and Blood Pressure

If you suffer from conditions such as hypertension, ketamine can add to the complications. The drug produces cardiovascular effects like the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. It has also been linked to increases in pulmonary and systemic blood pressures, cardiac output, heart rate and myocardial oxygen conditions, though pressure in the left ventricular – as well as diastolic pressure and systemic vascular resistance – normally remain unaffected.

Doctors are advised to note that some severely ill patients may exhibit unexpected drops in cardiac output and blood pressure when given ketamine. This is due to exhaustion of endogenous catecholamines and depletion of sympathetic compensatory mechanisms, thereby revealing the direct negative inotropic effects of ketamine. When used alone, ketamine does not cause any considerable depression of ventilation. If you use ketamine and experience any of these signs, you could be worsening your health status.

Ketamine Abuse Statistics

In the year 2000, the Department of Justice revealed that people aged 12 to 25 were responsible for 74% of emergency cases of ketamine intoxication.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 2.3 million people of 12 years and older, had used ketamine at least once in their lifetime. It was also reported that the total number of users in 2013 was 203,000.

The use of ketamine in the previous year was reported by 1% of secondary school students aged 13 to 14 years, and 1.7% for 17 to 18-year-old students.

Statistics from CRDA also revealed that ketamine use amongst all age groups in Hong Kong had risen significantly from 1605 users in 2000 to 5212 users in 2009  (27.8% of total drug users). Increasing trends of ketamine abuse was specific amongst users under 21 years. The same reports showed that the total drug users were 84.3% in 2009, up from 36.9% in 2000.

Helping a Friend or Family Member address their Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine is fast becoming a popular choice of drug for young users. If you suspect a member of your family (perhaps a teenager) is using the drug, it’s advisable to talk to them. Some parents are unsure about how to approach the problem, which is understandable. However, at Addiction Helper, we have specialists to guide you through the next step.

If the suspected user is minor, get professional help. An addiction expert who specialises in teen addiction can help them start treatment. It is more complicated with older users. For one, they might deny their involvement with the drug.

If you are absolutely sure about the individual’s abuse history, an intervention is usually helpful. Interventions are not meant to be confrontational or judgemental, but a way to show users how their drug abuse behaviour is negatively affecting their life and those of their loved ones, and to get them into rehab. At Addiction Helper, we have networks with reliable intervention specialists ready to help you with an addicted friend or family member.

Why Ketamine is Referred to as a Terrifying Drug

In small doses, ketamine produces a lethargic effect, where you feel numb and experience a psychedelic feeling. However, in severe cases, people who take high doses suffer frightening hallucinations. They see and hear things that are not there. Some even end up hurting themselves.

Worse, the ‘K-hole’ effect can produce uncomfortable paralytic episodes. If this occurs when there is respiratory depression, you’ll be unable to clear your trachea or breathe, therefore increasing the risk of choking on your own vomit – and subsequently, death. Such is the terrifying consequence of ketamine abuse.

Choosing the Best Inpatient Ketamine Rehab Centre

When it comes to addiction treatment, there are two major rehab options;

  • Inpatient rehab facility
  • Outpatient rehab service

The impatient facility is often for people with severe substance dependence. They require round-the-clock treatment and care. If you have only just started using ketamine, the outpatient service may be a suitable option.

When choosing an inpatient rehab, you’ll likely come across facilities with a serene and attractive setting. While this is good for recovery, the accreditation status, management qualification and treatment programme are more important components for receiving comprehensive care.

If you are unsure about which facility to choose, we’ll be happy to recommend one of our rehab centres to you.

Ketamine Withdrawal and Detox

Detoxing from ketamine is rarely as complicated as hard drugs like heroin or cocaine. However, the withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable. It’s always advisable to do this with the help of medical professionals.

Excessive use of ketamine can lead to psychological addiction to the drug. Over time, the brain will find it difficult to function without ketamine in the system. This is responsible for the discomfort experienced by most drug abusers. Withdrawal symptoms occur when ketamine changes the opioid receptors in the brain.

Symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Psychosis; hallucination and delusion
  • Poor motor coordination
  • Aggression
  • Insomnia
  • Tiredness
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Nausea

During withdrawal, patients usually become emotionally unstable and there may be a need for isolation to protect the people around them.

Step 1: Intake

If you (or the affected person) have agreed to an inpatient rehab facility, it is important to prepare before checking in. Many facilities don’t always have an available room, so pre-booking is a necessity. Visit the relevant website or call their customer service team to arrange your accommodation. Addiction Helper aids people in this regard.

If there’s a room, you can proceed to rehab. Otherwise, you’ll be contacted when there is a vacancy. Depending on how long you plan to stay (usually a minimum of 30 days), be sure to pack some clothes and other necessities. Upon arrival, a member of staff will attend to your luggage. At the reception, your reservation will be confirmed, and all the necessary documentation will be completed.

Step 2: Detox

Detox is a necessary step prior to treatment. It is the purging of all traces of ketamine from your system. Before detox, a physician will ask questions about your usage history, relating to how much you use at a time and how long you’ve been using. This will guide them towards the steps to proceed with detoxification. Sometimes, blood or urine samples are collected for analysis.

It is ill-advised to detox ‘cold turkey’ or without the presence of a qualified doctor. In rehab, you will have access to medical experts round-the-clock. Since withdrawal is usually uncomfortable, they will administer medicines to make the pain and experience bearable. Detox may last from one to two weeks, depending on the severity of addiction. You’ll feel better when the last trace of ketamine leaves your system.

Step 3: Rehab

After detox, rehabilitation therapy is the next step. This is the beginning of proper treatment for recovering addicts. Rehab aims to help you discover the reason behind your substance abuse and how to avoid relapse. An addiction psychologist will help you identify the root cause of your addiction and begin treatment from there.

Rehab also exposes you to other patients with similar experiences. In addition to your one on-one sessions, there’ll be group therapy sessions where you get to share your experiences with others. This helps to build a strong support network, even after rehab. Some programmes include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Behaviour Play (CBP), Aversion therapy and so on.

Step 4: Aftercare

Treatment does not end when you leave rehab. Sobriety is an ongoing experience and every day is a constant effort against relapse. Aftercare is a post-rehab solution that ensures you maintain contact with your therapist and support networks. You’ll be advised to meet with a sponsor or group regularly to discuss your challenges.

Typical aftercare programmes may include group exercises, such as running, cycling or arts and crafts. Sometimes, family therapy is organised. Here, you can share problems and rehash issues with family members that may improve the healing process. Although it won’t be easy, having the right support around you will make recovery less of an effort every day.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Yes, it is. Ketamine induces an anaesthetic effect that makes you want to relive the experience again and again. By changing the opioid receptors in the brain, it increases tolerance and builds addictive behaviour. People who become dependent on ketamine repeat their usage because they’re seeking the elusive ‘first-high’.

Do I have a ketamine addiction?

There are various ways to determine if you are addicted to ketamine. One is to see an addiction expert, but a quick test would be to check your usage behaviour. How often do you use the drug? Can you go 36 to 48 hours without experiencing withdrawal? If not, then you are probably dependent.

What Does a Ketamine ‘High’ Look Like?

People react differently to the effects of ketamine. While some generally prefer to stay isolated, others would rather be in a party crowd. Users tend to appear disconnected from their surroundings – the so-called ‘other-worldly’ feeling. They also hallucinate, while some feel paralysed and unable to move their limbs.

Can Ketamine be Abused and Cause Withdrawal?

Yes, people abuse ketamine. The drug has a short-term effect, so most users continue to take more ‘hits’ to prolong the euphoria. Repeated usage constitutes abuse, because of the danger it poses. When ketamine-dependent users don’t take the drug, they can experience withdrawal nine to twelve hours later, depending on the severity of their addiction.

Why should ketamine addicts undergo inpatient treatment?

Ketamine is strongly addictive. If you’ve been abusing the drug, it is advisable to opt for inpatient treatment, because of you can receive 24-hour attention from addiction experts.

Unlike outpatient treatment, you won’t be exposed to the dangers of ketamine whilst in rehab. There are proven treatment programmes in inpatient rehab, and users can bond with other patients and develop a strong support network.

Why do People Abuse Ketamine?

Abuse stems from the fact that many users are trying to relive their first euphoric experience. In an attempt to do so, they repeatedly take the drug and quickly become dependent.

Who Becomes Addicted to Ketamine?

People who use ketamine repeatedly can become addicted. Since its effect is only ephemeral, it is easy to binge. Over time, the opioid receptors in the brain adjust to become ketamine-tolerant, leading to addiction.

What to do About Ketamine Addiction?

If you think you (or a close friend) are addicted to ketamine, the first thing to do is see an addiction specialist. They will help you with detox preparation and checking into rehab. There are special helplines for addiction.

What Does Ketamine Taste Like?

Ketamine is sold in powder and pill form. Liquid ketamine smells like detergent and generally has a bitter taste.

How long does Ketamine last?

The onset of ketamine effect can be felt in the first two to ten minutes of ingestion. After that, it lasts from 20 minutes to an hour.

How is Ketamine Abuse Diagnosed?

A physician can get an effective diagnosis by asking about a user’s ketamine history and quantity they use each time. However, the most effective diagnosis is from a urine test. Ketamine abusers have a high risk of bladder and urinary tract infection.

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