Though ketamine has legitimate medical use as an anesthetic, it is perhaps best known for being a club drug that makes users feel as if they are in a trance-like state, detached from their bodies and the world in general.
Reports of ketamine’s effects almost border on myth. In the late 1970s, a physician and researcher took the drug and described his experiences as being “a Peeping Tom at the keyhole of eternity.” In 1978, another couple chronicled their use as well. They wrote of falling in love with ketamine and that they were “pioneering a new path to consciousness” because of it.
Though years removed from the height of its popularity, ketamine, nevertheless, carries a high potential for abuse. Users flock to it for its sedative and euphoria-inducing effects. When abused recreationally, ketamine can produce devastating, life-threatening effects on the body.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is grappling with a ketamine addiction, read on to find about the drug’s history, side effects, symptoms of withdrawal, and professional addiction treatment options.
The History of Ketamine
Ketamine is a paradox.
The medication was first synthesized in 1962 by scientist Calvin Stevens at Parke Davis Laboratories. Stevens was looking to develop a new anesthetic medication to replace phencyclidine (PCP), a dangerous hallucinogenic that was not considered suitable for human use because of its effects. Though ketamine is related to PCP, it possesses less than 10 percent of its potency.
It was tested on animals before it was approved for human use in 1970. Not long afterward, the medication was used to treat U.S. soldiers with battlefield injuries during the Vietnam War. Ketamine is listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, which chronicles the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.
Though it isn’t classified as a narcotic, ketamine is also listed as a Schedule III drug under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) lists of controlled substances, which means it carries the potential for abuse and “may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.”
Whatever the case, ketamine works by disrupting the glutamate neurotransmitter, the most abundant brain chemical that is involved in nearly every major excitatory brain function. Ketamine comes as an intravenous, subcutaneous, oral, or rectal suppository medication.
The drug is used on children who are undergoing minor procedures, as a sedative for people subject to acutely painful procedures in emergency rooms, for asthmatics or patients with chronic obstructive airway disease, and for people who need emergency surgery in combat zones. It is also utilized medically to supplemental spinal or epidural anesthesia.
In recent times, however, the drug has been used in patients suffering from severe depression. Ketamine’s use in this fashion compelled John Abenstein, the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, to tell WebMD, “Outside of the clinic, ketamine can cause tragedies, but in the right hands, it is a miracle.”
Unfortunately, ketamine has seen great utility outside of the clinic as a recreational drug. The substance goes by the street names of Special K, Vitamin K, K2, Super K, Lady K, Ket, Kit Kat, Super C, Ketaset, Ketaject, Jet, and Super Acid, among others.
Users flock to it because of the dissociative effects it endows. Under recreational conditions, ketamine is snorted. It can also be injected, consumed with liquid, or combined with marijuana. Because of the drug’s rapid half-life, it can act within five to 30 minutes depending on how it is consumed. The drug causes users to experience a distortion of sight, sounds, colors, the self, and even the environment. The effects of the drug can last one to two hours.
Recreational use of ketamine can lead to frightening hallucinations or “bad trips,” which users refer to as being in the “K-hole.”
The danger that comes with this kind of use is that ketamine can inflict damage on the body, particularly when it is abused with alcohol. When someone abuses ketamine, they will begin to display signs and symptoms of addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction
According to Drugs.com, the recreational ketamine dose ranges are 75 to 125 mg (milligrams) when intramuscularly (IM) injected, 60 to 250 mg when snorted, 50 to 100 mg when taken intravenously, and 200 to 300 mg when taken orally.
Ketamine is extremely potent and fast-acting. The road to ketamine addiction, as with any other substance, starts when a user builds up a tolerance. Tolerance occurs when the body gets used to the presence of a substance over time that it requires more to experience the desired effect.
That tolerance morphs into a dependence when the body adapts to the drug so that when use ceases, it produces symptoms of withdrawal. Those withdrawal symptoms include hallucinations, tearing, chills, sweats, excitation, and ketamine cravings.
At small doses even, ketamine can produce various effects that range from physical to psychological. Those effects include:
- Rapid eye movement
- Slurred speech
- Feelings of relaxation
- Pain relief
- Slowed or diminished reflexes
- Depressed mental state
Low-to-moderate doses of the drug can cause chest pains, high blood pressure, elevated or depressed heart rate, agitation, nausea and vomiting, kidney toxicity, and heightened breathing.
High doses of ketamine can elicit even more pronounced, life-threatening effects that impact the cardiovascular, central nervous system (CNS), gastrointestinal, renal and respiratory components of the body as well. At higher doses, a user may begin to exhibit any of the following:
- Chest pains
- Blood pressure and heart rate volatility
- Heightened body temperature
- Violent behavior
- Respiratory depression
Other complications from high doses include severe anxiety, panic, aggression, and muscle rigidity. When people ingest ketamine with alcohol or other CNS depressants, use can lead to profound respiratory depression or death.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has a ketamine addiction, it is critical that you consider professional addiction treatment.
Ketamine Addiction Treatment
Attempting to quit ketamine on your own can prove to be futile, if not dangerous. The uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can induce you to relapse.
Professional addiction treatment has been proven to effectively treat ketamine and other substance addictions.
The process begins with an assessment from a team of doctors, nurses, and other medical staff who will examine the severity of your addiction and overall physical health. With that information, they will develop a specialized detox plan that accomplishes two ends: the safe and effective removal of the addictive substance from your body and the alleviation of your withdrawal symptoms resulting in physical stabilization.
After detox, you can enroll in an inpatient program where you will live onsite at the treatment facility and receive around-the-clock care and supervision. In residential treatment, you will have access to clinically proven methods and modalities that help treat addiction such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and motivational interviewing (MI).
These modalities are designed to help clients get to the root of their addictions. With this knowledge and insight, recovery is much easier for someone grappling with addiction.
After residential treatment, you can enroll in an outpatient program where you can attend treatment on a part-time basis while enjoying the freedom and flexibility of attending to the obligations of your daily life.
You will still have access to counseling and therapy and be subject to mandatory drug testing. In outpatient, you will learn strategies and coping mechanisms that can serve as a hedge against relapse.
What’s more, a team of therapists, caseworkers, and other support staff will connect you to 12-step and other alumni programs that provide ongoing support after treatment.
How Dangerous is Ketamine?
Ketamine overdose can produce severe psychological effects such as hallucinations, dreams, and illusions. Though death by overdose is relatively low, the aforementioned physical effects of ketamine can result in permanent organ damage and death, particularly when it is used in combination with alcohol or other drugs.
What’s more, ketamine’s mind-altering effects can cause users to engage in risky and life-threatening activities. It also presents a danger as a date rape drug, where it is slipped into a victim’s beverage undetected.
- An estimated 2.3 million people, age 12 and over, used ketamine in their lifetimes, states the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- Ketamine was responsible for 1,550 emergency department hospital visits in 2011, which indicated a more than fivefold increase from 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those cases, 71.5 percent involved alcohol.
People ages 12 to 25 accounted for 74 percent of the ketamine emergency department mentions in the United States in 2000, states the Drug Abuse Warning Network.