What Is Ketamine, and How Can It Be Abused?
Intended as a short-acting anesthetic drug for humans, ketamine is primarily used in veterinary medicine when used licitly, and it is commonly diverted and abused as a dissociative and hallucinogenic drug.
Ketamine comes in white powder or clear liquid form. It is snorted, smoked, injected, added to other smokable materials (like tobacco or marijuana), or mixed in drinks when abused. Ketamine produces feelings of disconnection from self and distortions of sound and sight as well as decreased pain sensations and hallucinations.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that ketamine is generally taken in lines or “bumps” which are small doses of 100 mg. On the street ketamine is called: Cat Valium, K, Special K, Kit Kat, Vitamin K, Jet, Cat Tranquilizer, Super Acid, and Special LA Coke. Ketamine induces sedation, immobility, and can cause memory loss and is often used to facilitate sexual assault as well as being abused recreationally and intentionally.
Ketamine as a Club Drug
A dissociative anesthetic drug, ketamine is often lumped into the category of “club drugs,” which are drugs that are used commonly in the club scene by adolescents and young adults. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of 2015 reports that 1.4 percent of 12th graders had abused ketamine in the past year, as published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The DEA publishes that ketamine is popular at dance clubs and all-night dance parties, or “raves,” potentially due to its short duration of action, which only about 30-60 minutes. This is significantly shorter than the “trips” produced by other club drugs like PCP and LSD. Depending on how it’s taken, ketamine generally takes effect rather rapidly as well. Ketamine intoxication experiences are generally divided into the following categories:
- K-land: refers to colorful hallucinations and a dream-like state of mellow and relaxed sedation
- K-hole: occurs when higher doses are taken and causes an out-of-body experience that is often likened to “near-death”
- Baby food: signified by inertia, inability to move, and a blissful feeling
- God: a spiritual experience in which individuals swear to have “met their maker”
Ketamine causes individuals to become less aware of their surrounding environment and detached from themselves and makes them feel like they are invincible. In many instances, users experience vivid dreams, become disoriented and easily distracted, and have impaired decision-making skills and thought processes.
Ketamine can cause anxiety, delirium, chest pain, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, imperviousness to pain, involuntary eye movements, slurred speech, immobility, increased salivation and need to urinate, amnesia, and decreased coordination. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) warns that memory impairment, dissociative effects, schizophrenia-like symptoms, and delirium may persist for days after using ketamine.
Risks in Abusing Ketamine
Ketamine can have unpredictable effects in different people, and individuals may never be sure exactly how it will interact in their body. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports that in 2011 over 1,500 people needed emergency medical treatment for a negative reaction to the abuse of ketamine. Ketamine can raise blood pressure dangerously high and lead to respiratory issues that may be fatal, NIDA warns.
Ketamine is also regularly abused with other club drugs, stimulants, or alcohol, the Emerging Health Threats Journal publishes. Abusing other substances with ketamine increases the risks and potential for a life-threatening overdose or other negative reactions. NIDA reports that ketamine abuse can lead to stomach pain, bladder ulcers and pain, and kidney problems as well as loss of consciousness or death.
Regular use of ketamine may have lasting effects. Flashbacks, or the re-experiencing of ketamine’s effects, have been reported weeks or even months after using ketamine.
These flashbacks can come on suddenly and without warning.
Short-term memory, as well as visual and verbal memory functions, may be impaired on a long-term basis in those who abuse ketamine regularly for a prolonged period of time, according to information published by Reuters. Individuals may also build up a tolerance to ketamine, requiring them to take more of the drug to keep feeling its effects.
Chronic use may lead to drug dependence and intense drug cravings as well as withdrawal side effects if the drug is suddenly stopped. Depression and suicidal thoughts or actions may be side effects of ketamine withdrawal that are particularly worrisome if dependence has formed and use is stopped suddenly.
How and When to Get Help for Ketamine Abuse
Negative effects on memory and cognition may be reversible with the cessation of ketamine use. Individuals who abuse ketamine regularly will likely seem easily distracted, have difficulties concentrating and staying on task, and have difficulties remembering things.
They may spend most of their time thinking about ketamine, how and where to get it, and then using and recovering from use of the drug. Finances may become strained, and individuals may get into trouble with law enforcement.
Those experiencing addiction involving ketamine may be restless, irritable, agitated, and act in ways that are not typical. Aggression, violence, and self-harming behaviors may be consequences of prolonged ketamine use.
Risk-taking behaviors may increase, thus increasing the likelihood of being involved in an accident or becoming injured. Sleep patterns can become erratic, and individuals may experience appetite changes and weight fluctuations.
People who use ketamine have distorted versions of time and potentially persistent delusions. Regular obligations may not be attended to, and grades and work production often decline.
Relationships likely become strained, as individuals are more withdrawn and secretive over time.
Those experiencing addiction involving ketamine may be restless, irritable, agitated, and act in ways that are not typical. Aggression, violence, and self-harming behaviors may be consequences of prolonged ketamine use. Risk-taking behaviors may increase, thus increasing the likelihood of being involved in an accident or becoming injured. Sleep patterns can become erratic, and individuals may experience appetite changes and weight fluctuations.
People who use ketamine have distorted versions of time and potentially persistent delusions. Regular obligations may not be attended to, and grades and work production often decline. Relationships likely become strained, as individuals are more withdrawn and secretive over time.
Ketamine withdrawal can be difficult, causing tremors, agitation, sweating, chills, nausea, muscle pain, and significant emotional distress; therefore, medical supervision is advised for withdrawal.
A specialized detox facility can provide supportive care and encouragement as well as a calm and quiet place to help the body naturally process the drug out of its system. Mental health professionals can monitor individuals for harmful behaviors directed at themselves or others, to keep everyone as safe and comfortable as possible during detox.
Treatment for addiction involving ketamine is tailored to the specific circumstances of the individual client. What works for one person may not be the best solution for someone else. A detailed mental health and medical evaluation as well as a drug screening are often performed prior to admission into a treatment program. The information gathered allows treatment professionals to design a customized treatment plan that will be most beneficial to the client.
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