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Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine — also known as Special K or Cat — is a dissociative drug commonly used as an anesthetic in veterinary practice. Special K causes individuals to feel out of control or detached from reality and is sometimes used as a date-rape drug. For those facing ketamine addictions, effective treatment options are available.

  • Drug Name Ketamine
  • Addiction Liability High
  • Scientific Name Ketamine
  • Street Names Special K, K, Valium K, Cat
  • How It's Used Smoked, Snorted, Swallowed
  • Side Effects Disorientation, Sedation, Amnesia, Confusion, Headaches, Hallucinations, Bladder Damage, Anxiety, Impaired Motor Function, Memory Loss, Organ Failure
  • Psychological Dependence Very High
  • Physical Dependence Moderate

Ketamine is a drug used an anesthetic and was once popular for battlefield treatment and as a tranquilizer for horses and other large animals. Ketamine is a dissociative drug that causes an altered state of mind in which sights and sounds are distorted and spurs feelings of detachment from one’s environment, self or reality. Ketamine is also used for recreational purposes to get high.

In 2000, individuals ages 12 to 25 accounted for 74 percent of ketamine emergency department mentions in the United States.

Recreational ketamine use causes a dissociative high. Ketamine highs are characterized by hallucinations, altered realities, out-of-body experiences, drowsiness and sedation.

Recreational ketamine use is common in rave culture and is particularly popular among European youths. Ketamine dealers and users usually get their supply of the drug through scams or by stealing from pharmacies. Veterinary offices are often robbed by individuals looking for ketamine.

Ketamine is also used to facilitate sexual assault and is considered a date-rape drug. Ketamine is odorless and tasteless and can easily go undetected if slipped into a drink or something else that a person ingests. Ketamine causes disorientation and loss of touch with reality; those who are drugged using ketamine become vulnerable to crimes such as sexual assault.

Who Uses Ketamine?

Ketamine is a popular party drug, often found in clubs, raves, music festivals and other music-related social events. Generally, ketamine is used by younger people.

People on ketamine dancing in a glow in the dark rave

About 1.4 percent of high school seniors in the United States reported using ketamine during 2015, according to a survey by researchers at the University of Michigan. In 2000, individuals ages 12 to 25 accounted for 74 percent of ketamine emergency department mentions in the United States.

Additionally, researchers are investigating the drug’s therapeutic effects.

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Ketamine for Depression

For more than a decade, researchers have studied ketamine’s potential to treat severe depression. The American Psychiatric Association saw enough evidence of the drug’s therapeutic benefits that it created a task force to analyze the benefits and risks of the drug.

The task force was also charged with creating guidelines for using ketamine to treat depression. A 2016 draft of the guidelines recommended six very low doses during a two-week period. No studies have found cases of addiction from the dosages recommended by the APA task force.

Researchers are still learning how the drug combats depression. In a 2016 study on the brains of animals, researchers determined that ketamine causes dependence and dissociative thinking by interrupting part of the brain that regulates mood. But after the drug’s negative side effects wore off, a metabolite that caused antidepressant side effects remained in the body.

The authors of the study concluded that the drug could be used to develop a new type of antidepressant. A separate 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that repeated exposure to ketamine reduced suicidal thoughts in a small sample of patients with severe depression.

Ketamine Side Effects

Recreationally, ketamine can be unpredictable and affects each individual differently. Size, height, weight and tolerance all determine how ketamine affects someone. Combining ketamine with other drugs makes it even more dangerous. The strength of the batch of ketamine and the dosage determine the extent of the effects.

The intensity and duration of ketamine effects depend on the method of administration. The table below depicts how different uses of ketamine have different effects.

Method of Use
Dosage Range
Onset
Duration
Injecting 10–40 mg 3–4 minutes 45–90 minutes
Orally 40–75 mg 5–20 minutes 90+ minutes
Snorting 10–60 mg 5–15 minutes 10–30 minutes
Smoking 30–250 mg Immediately Varies

Recreational users take ketamine to experience euphoric effects such as feeling detached from the body, an experience known as K-hole. Other recreational ketamine effects include:

Positive ketamine effects are often overshadowed by negative ones. Ketamine causes highs that raise the risk of injury, health problems and overdose. Negatives effects of ketamine include:

Individuals on ketamine often hurt themselves and do not realize it because of the lowered pain sensitivity.

K-Hole

Many ketamine users who take large doses experience what is called a “K-hole,” a state of high that causes an out-of-body or near death-like experience. During a K-hole, users have extreme difficulty moving or lose control of their ability to move altogether. K-holes can cause a trip like LSD; however, users appear frozen and often lie on the ground talking to themselves or doing nothing.

Overdose

The risk of overdose is high for ketamine users, especially when ketamine is used with other substances. If a ketamine user is experiencing the following symptoms, call 911 immediately:

Overdosing on ketamine can also lead to death in severe instances. Additionally, users put themselves at greater risks of dying from something other than ketamine.

Long-Term Effects

Long-term ketamine use can lead to a multitude of negative consequences, including many health problems. Some of these effects include:

Long-term ketamine use can lead to a health condition known as ketamine bladder syndrome, a painful condition in which patients experience difficulty holding in urine, bladder damage, incontinence, blood in their urine and infections. In some cases, bladder complications from ketamine use become so severe that users must have their bladder removed.

Urologist explaining urological problems with a model

Researching Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Evidence shows that frequent users develop a tolerance to ketamine and can become dependent on the drug. A common feature of ketamine dependence includes repeated binges where the user indulges in excessive amounts of ketamine over a short time.

To date, identifying physical withdrawal symptoms has been limited to only personal accounts, but research is ongoing. Tolerance can have rapid onset, and after a certain amount of time of use, users no longer experience the full high of ketamine. Withdrawal occurs when an addicted individual tries to detox from ketamine. Ketamine withdrawal symptoms include:

Ketamine withdrawal symptoms usually last four to six days.

Treating Ketamine Addiction

Treatment is available for those affected by ketamine addiction. Overcoming ketamine addiction can be challenging and uncomfortable but is not impossible; treatment has shown to be very effective in helping individuals with ketamine use disorders reach recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with ketamine addiction, seeking treatment could be the difference between a life of harm and a happy, healthy life.

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