According to the Government’s Crime Survey for England and Wales, increasing numbers of young people are using ketamine. The figures show that 3.1% of 16 to 24-year-olds used ketamine in 2017-18 (up from 1.2% in the previous year). This is the highest number of young people using the drug since 2006-07 when records of ketamine use began.
So why are young people turning to ketamine as their drug of choice? What are the effects of using ketamine? Why do they appeal to more young people than ever before? And what are the risks of taking ketamine – including the risk of addiction, injury or death?
Why is Ketamine Use Rising Amongst Young People?
Ketamine is cheaper than other recreational drugs like cocaine or MDMA. It’s possible to buy ketamine for £30 per gram. Young people with limited finances may simply be priced out of buying more expensive drugs.
Ketamine is also widely available. Whereas drug seizures fell by 2% overall in 2017-18, ketamine seizures increased to 658 (compared to 504 in the previous year).
Some ketamine users become dependent on the drug due to pre-existing mental illness. NHS data showed that 12.8% of young people in England had a mental disorder in England in 2017. Additionally, emotional disorders in 5 to 15-year-olds have increased from 4.3% in 1999 to 5.8% in 2017.
Writing in the Independent, a former ketamine addict who started using aged 17, said: “In low doses, it delivers a drunk-like feeling and as the dose increases it shuts you out. I was using it to block out grief and to deal with that two-headed monster of depression and anxiety.”
The same ketamine user also describes how he used the drug to block out past trauma. He said: “I was abused throughout my childhood – I was in need of help or numbness. At least ket gave me one of them.”
Other young people who use ketamine are simply experimenting in their teenage years. They may first take ketamine due to peer pressure or out of curiosity.
What Are the Effects of Ketamine?
Ketamine is primarily used as a general anaesthetic in the medical treatment of humans and animals. Developed in the 1960s, ketamine is used to induce and sustain anaesthesia, including for patients undergoing surgical procedures. Lower doses of ketamine are used for the clinical management of pain.
Using ketamine as a recreational drug brings about similar anaesthetic effects. These include reduced body sensations, pain relief, altered mental perception, hallucinations, dissociative states and memory loss.
At one end of the scale, people say they feel detached or relaxed when using ketamine. At the other end, however, ketamine users can go into a ‘k-hole’, which can be extremely distressing. This is where they cannot physically move due to muscle paralysis, whilst also hallucinating or being out of touch with reality.
Using ketamine by itself, or mixed with other drugs and alcohol, can also lead to physical and mental injury, or death by overdose or accident.
Can Using Ketamine Become Addictive for Young People?
Many young people who experiment with ketamine won’t progress to regular use – but for those who do, there can be serious consequences.
There are physical and mental health impacts of using ketamine, including for young people. Regular and/or heavy use can lead to mental illness, including anxiety, depression or psychosis. Physically, ketamine is known to damage the bladder, risking permanent incontinence or even bladder removal. Liver and heart problems can also develop in people who use ketamine regularly.
In terms of addiction, ketamine users can develop a tolerance for the drug, using higher doses to achieve the same effect. Psychological addiction to the effects of ketamine is common. Particularly when mixed with other drugs or alcohol, it’s very difficult to predict physical withdrawal symptoms, including how quickly the drug wears off and how people feel as they return to their normal state.
Do You Want to Stop Using Ketamine?
You can read much more on the Addiction Helper website about the signs, risks and treatment for ketamine addiction.