Ketamine is a powerful, fast-acting anesthetic used on both humans and animals during surgical procedures. It is a dissociative anesthetic, which means that it distorts perception and creates a feeling of detachment from the environment and the self.
When administered legally, it is given intravenously before surgery. For illicit use, the drug is injected, snorted, smoked or swallowed. Ketamine has also been used in sexual assault, because higher doses can create immobilization and amnesia.
Ketamine can also be addictive. Regular use of ketamine can lead to tolerance and cravings for the drug.
Understanding Ketamine Abuse
Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic and a hallucinogen. Very soon after ingesting ketamine, people begin to hallucinate, and/or enter a detached, dream-like state. At times the sensation is pleasant, as if the user is gently floating away from their body.
However sometimes ketamine leads to an experience nicknamed the “K-hole.” When this happens, users experience a terrifying, near-complete detachment from world and the self that is similar to having a “bad trip” on LSD. It is said to feel similar to a near-death experience.
Although the majority of ketamine’s effects last an hour or less, the drug may continue to impact a user’s judgment and coordination for up to 24 hours. Ketamine can also cause flashbacks in the weeks following the initial dose, even after only one use.
Street names for the drug include Special K, Cat Valium, Kit Kat, K, Super Acid, Super K, Purple, Special La Coke, Jet, and Vitamin K.
Signs and Symptoms of Ketamine Abuse
Possible signs and symptoms of Ketamine abuse may include:
- appearing intoxicated with no signs of alcohol use
- detachment from reality
- changes in appearance or hygiene
- mental clouding
- memory problems
- isolation from family and friends
- secretive behavior
- confusion and altered speech
- loss of coordination
- lack of interest in activities the user previously enjoyed
Short Term Effects
The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists the following as short term effects of taking ketamine:
- problems with attention, learning, and memory
- dreamlike states
- problems speaking
- loss of memory
- problems moving, to the point of being immobile
- raised blood pressure
- slowed breathing that can lead to death
Dangers of Ketamine Abuse
Sustained use of ketamine will create a tolerance for the drug, forcing addicts to increase their dosage to get the same experience. Taking large amounts of ketamine will increase the number and severity of side effects, and as well as the risk of serious medical consequences.
In addition to the physical risk, continued ketamine usage can result in intense cravings for the drug, and withdrawal symptoms such as:
- double vision
- depressive disorders
- loss of coordination
- hearing loss
- increased heart beat
- rapid breathing
- loss of motor skills
The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists the following long term effects of taking ketamine:
- ulcers and pain in the bladder
- kidney problems
- stomach pain
- poor memory
Mixing ketamine with other drugs or alcohol greatly increases the chances of adverse health effects and fatalities, even with the first usage. People addicted to ketamine also run a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis, HIV, and other infectious diseases from shared needles, and/or risky behavior such as unprotected sex.
Most illicit ketamine in the United States is stolen from veterinarians’ offices. Dealers take the liquid form of the drug, which they evaporate into a powder. This process makes it impossible for users to know how much ketamine they are actually consuming, or whether the drug has been pre-mixed with other dangerous substances.
Who Abuses Ketamine?
A person of any age, gender, financial status, or ethnicity can become addicted to ketamine. It is considered a “club-drug,” and is most likely to be encountered at parties, raves, bars and night clubs. As one of its forms is a colorless liquid with no discernable scent, it can be slipped unnoticed into someone’s drink, making them vulnerable to sexual assault and other violent crimes.
The NIDA’s Info Facts sheet on club drugs states that “there have been reports of people binging on ketamine, a behavior that is similar to that seen in some cocaine- or amphetamine-dependent individuals.”
Because ketamine users can easily develop a tolerance to the drug, and suffer intense cravings, the potential for addiction and abuse is high.
When used legally for surgical procedures, ketamine is a useful drug. Using ketamine illegally, outside of a medical environment, is very risky, both because of adverse health effects and because of the potential for addiction.
Due to the use of ketamine as an assault or date rape drug, it is important for individuals to remain wary in social situations. Only accept drinks from people you trust, and never allow your drink to be out of your sight or possession. Outside of a laboratory, there is no way to detect ketamine once it has been mixed into another liquid.
Taking ketamine recreationally, especially in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs, is extremely dangerous and is a clear sign of a substance abuse problem.
Am I Addicted to Ketamine?
If you fear that you may be addicted to ketamine, ask yourself the questions below:
- Do I abuse ketamine every day?
- Do I abuse the drug in order to combat feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, depression, etc.?
- Have friends or family members mentioned more than once that they are worried about my drug use?
- Do I become hostile or angry when they do so?
- Do I ever experience side effects or withdrawal symptoms such as those listed above?
- Do I feel like I can’t have fun, be normal, or complete everyday tasks without ketamine?
- Am I secretive about my drug use, and/or do I lie about when I use or how much I take?
- Do I need more and more ketamine each time I abuse the drug in order to feel its effects?
- Do I ever take ketamine in combination with alcohol or other drugs?
- Have I experienced any major problems in the last year, such as a breakup, job loss, car accident, family problems, financial problems, or getting arrested as a result of my drug use?
- Despite these problems, do I feel unable to stop using ketamine on my own?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be addicted to ketamine and in need of professional substance abuse help.
Ketamine Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. The NIDA explains that “repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that enable you to exert self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions.”
This is why addicts require professional help to break the devastating cycle of addiction. The treatment specialists at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab are trained in how to manage substance abuse issues and lead addicts safely to recovery.
There are many affordable treatment options available, but they all begin with abstinence.
Detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated.
Because withdrawal from ketamine can be extremely unpleasant, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals is ideal. There are no medications approved by the FDA to treat addiction to ketamine or other dissociative drugs, but there are still treatments and procedures that will help ease withdrawal symptoms and more safely and comfortably transition you into sobriety.
Whether addicts choose inpatient residential treatment, and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy.
Individual therapy allows patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is a fundamental tool to ensure individuals encounter the best possible environment at home, to prevent relapse.
Other treatment options include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations.
- Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.
- 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
- Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.