Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine — also known as Special K — is a dissociative drug that makes people feel out of control or detached from reality. The hallucinogen causes tolerance and cravings, but reports of ketamine dependence and addiction are rare.

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Fast Facts: Ketamine

Abuse Potential
Moderate
Scientific Name
Ketamine
Drug Class
Hallucinogen
Street Names
Special K, K, Vitamin K, Cat Valium
Side Effects
Disorientation, Sedation, Amnesia, Confusion, Headaches, Hallucinations, Bladder Damage, Anxiety, Impaired Motor Function, Memory Loss
How It's Used
Smoked, Snorted, Swallowed, Injected
Legal Status
Schedule III

Ketamine is a dissociative hallucinogen that distorts the way people perceive sights and sounds. It can also cause feelings of detachment from reality. It once was a popular battlefield treatment, and it is currently used legally as an anesthetic for humans and large animals.

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Today, prescription drugs containing ketamine are sold under the brand names Ketalar and Ketajet. Veterinary medicines containing ketamine include Ketaset and Vetamine.

The drug is also misused for recreational purposes. Street names for ketamine include Special K, K and cat Valium.

The drug can cause a dissociative high characterized by hallucination, altered reality, drowsiness and sedation. It’s considered a club drug because people often take it at nightclubs, bars, parties or music festivals. Other types of hallucinogen abuse are also common in these environments.

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies ketamine as a Schedule III controlled substance because it has medical use and a moderate potential for abuse. Schedule III drugs also have a risk of causing physical or psychological dependence. However, reports of dependence or addiction to ketamine are rare.

Effects of Ketamine

People use ketamine to feel euphoric, out-of-body experiences and other effects of hallucinogens. They often call these experiences trips. The drug is sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault because it causes sedation and memory loss. It’s one of several drugs referred to as “date rape” drugs.

Ketamine can cause serious side effects, such as:

  • Amnesia
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Double vision
  • Salivation
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting

Ketamine is an anesthetic, meaning it lowers a person’s sensitivity to pain. People using ketamine can become disoriented and get hurt without realizing it. They may unknowingly suffer serious injuries and delay seeking treatment.

Several factors determine how the body responds to ketamine, including the person’s height, weight, ketamine tolerance and health. The intensity and duration of the drug’s effects depend on the dosage and method of use.

Effects of Ketamine by Method of Use and Dosage
Method of Use Dosage Range Onset Duration
Injecting 10-60 mg 5–15 minutes 10–30minutes
Snorting 40–75 mg 5–20 minutes 90+ minutes
Swallowing 40–75 mg 5–20 minutes Up to 90 minutes
Smoking 30–250 mg Immediately Varies
Source: National Drug Intelligence Center

Recreational use of ketamine is never safe. In general, injecting, snorting or smoking a drug is more likely to cause serious side effects than swallowing the same dose of the drug.

Ketamine Overdose

High doses of ketamine can make a person lose coordination and consciousness. But documented cases of deadly overdoses caused by ketamine are rare. Most deaths related to ketamine use are caused by accidents, assault or other substance use.

The term overdose is relative. Recreational doses of ketamine are much lower than doses used medically for anesthesia, according to a 2000 review published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Most people refer to a recreational overdose as a dose that causes excess confusion or stupor.

High doses of ketamine can cause an out-of-body experience called a K-hole. During a K-hole, people have trouble moving. Some people regard it as a spiritually awakening experience. Others feel panic, fear and dysphoria. K-holes can cause a hallucinatory trip similar to that of LSD.

Ketamine Tolerance, Dependence & Withdrawal

Regular use of ketamine is associated with psychological cravings, but few people become physically dependent on ketamine. Symptoms of withdrawal are uncommon, but researchers have documented cases of ketamine withdrawal.

Ketamine withdrawal symptoms reported by case studies include:

  • Irritability
  • Trembling
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Nightmares
  • Impaired memory
  • Vision changes

Sources: Jansen, K.L. (1990), Lim, D.K. (2003), Critchlow, D.G. (2006), Garg, A. et al. (2014)

Ketamine dependence is uncommon, but frequent use does commonly lead to tolerance. That means people who use ketamine have to take higher doses or use the drug in risky ways to feel the same effects. People with a high tolerance to ketamine often binge, taking excessive amounts of the drug over a short period.

Treatment for Ketamine Abuse

Little is known about the long-term effects of ketamine use. Flashbacks to visual hallucinations have been reported after recreational ketamine use, but recurring symptoms are rare.

Ketamine addiction is uncommon, but individuals may choose to use the drug regularly. Common types of drug addiction counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, can teach people healthy, drug-free ways to cope with stress or other issues. One case report stated that motivational interviewing helped a person decide to stop using ketamine.

In other case reports of people addicted to ketamine, inpatient rehab helped individuals quit using the drug. In one case, the patient relapsed after three months of sobriety and declined further contact with doctors.

Multiple case reports have cited naltrexone as a promising treatment for ketamine withdrawal. The medication is approved to treat alcoholism and opioid addiction. However, more research is needed to determine if it’s an effective treatment for ketamine addiction.

Behavioral therapy may help individuals recognize the reasons they abuse ketamine and find safer ways to have fun or relieve stress. Ketamine abuse is linked to serious side effects, but therapeutic use of the drug is considered safe.

Author
Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.
@ChrisTheCritic9
editor
Joey Rosenberg
Joey Rosenberg,
Editor, DrugRehab.com

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