Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic used in surgeries on animals and people, is a drug that can become extremely dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands.
People addicted to ketamine will go to almost any length to use it, including breaking into the offices of animal clinics to get their hands on it.
There is recent research that ketamine offers some promise for treatment for people with depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a mental health disorder estimated to impact more than 16 million U.S. adults each year.
However, when it is abused, it can cause a number of health problems and even lead to death.
Addiction can follow repeated ketamine use. For many users, the only way out is to address their ketamine dependence at a treatment center where addiction health care professionals can help them recover.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine (brand name Ketalar) is the generic name for the dissociative anesthetic that is used for sedation before surgery is performed on animals and humans.
The Schedule III drug — available in a clear liquid or odorless, off-white powder — can be snorted, injected intravenously, consumed orally, or added to marijuana or tobacco and smoked. According to Drugs.com, ketamine is commonly used orally or through the nose when used in social settings.
Ketamine’s beginnings date back to the early 1960s as it was used in surgical procedures on wounded Vietnam War soldiers. It was created after the drug PCP (phencyclidine) was discontinued because it caused people to become violent and experience hallucinations. Recreational ketamine use emerged in the 1970s, which also is when the U.S. government approved the drug for human use.
Recreational Ketamine Use is Abuse
Ketamine use outside of a doctor’s prescription is considered abuse. In medical settings, ketamine is given intravenously (IV) to ensure it gets to the brain quickly. According to WebMD, most people start with about six doses during a one-to-two-week period. After that, they get booster IVs once every three to five weeks. Long-term results may require users to continue treatment for a year or more.
Outside of a medical setting, ketamine can be found in mixtures containing other addictive substances, such as ecstasy. It also can be found in illicit pills and other drugs.
It is a difficult drug to trace because of its translucence. Subcultures started to experiment with ketamine in the 1970s as well, and recreational use continued through the 1980s and 1990s.
Today in the United States, ketamine is used in the club and rave scenes and at private parties.
Teenagers and young adults abuse it for its powerful hallucinogenic, tranquilizing effects, which make users feel out of control and detached from their environment.
How Does Ketamine Work?
Not enough is known about ketamine’s method of action once it enters the body. However, there is a prevailing belief that it changes the way brain cells communicate with one another, according to WebMD.
What’s more, ketamine blocks the NMDA receptor in the brain, which is said to play a role in depression. Ketamine also acts on other receptors in the brain, much like opioids.
How Long Does it Take to Feel Ketamine’s Effects?
The length of time it takes to feel the effects of ketamine depends on how the drug is ingested.
Typically, users may start to experience effects within 30 minutes after taking it, and those effects can last anywhere from 45-90 minutes.
If the drug is snorted while in a crushed powder form, the high will be quick and intense. This is a popular way to use the drug to ensure its potent effects are felt faster.
A short-lived high means users will engage in ketamine use repeatedly, building up a tolerance for the drug, which can lead to addiction. The drug is called “dissociative” because it “alters the users’ perception of light and sound and produces feelings of detachment from one’s self and surroundings,” explains Drugs.com.
These effects create out-of-body experiences that are intensified when users interact with stimuli in the environment.
Once the effects of ketamine wear off, users may feel anxious and/or experience memory loss or flashbacks of their drug experiences.
Street names for ketamine include Ket, K, Special K, Kitty, Horse/Dog/Vet Tranquilizer, Cat Tranquilizer, Vitamin K, Special LA Coke, Purple, Mauve, and Super Acid, among many others.
What are the Signs of Ketamine Addiction?
Inappropriate use of ketamine can lead to addiction. That’s because prolonged and frequent use can cause users to become more tolerant of the drug’s effects, which, in turn, leads them to use more of it to achieve the high they are seeking.
One sure sign of ketamine addiction is continuing to use the drug despite the negative outcomes and consequences of doing so, such as losing a job or feeling sick after each use.
Other Signs and Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction Include:
- Strong, seemingly unbearable ketamine drug cravings
- Constantly thinking about ketamine
- Taking more ketamine outside of what is prescribed
- Using the drug in the manner for reasons other than medical issues
- Spending large amounts of money
- Neglecting personal responsibilities
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Using the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Keeping drug from family, friends, colleagues
- Isolating from other people; damaged relationships
- Inability to stop using the drug even with repeated attempts to quit
- Combining ketamine with alcohol or other drugs
When people abuse ketamine, they may exhibit the following physical and psychological symptoms:
- Physical coordination problems
- Sleeping for long periods
- Appear hung over
- Excessive hunger, thirst
- Frequently distracted
- Amnesia, memory loss
- Concentration difficulties
- Learning, thinking challenges
- Dilated pupils
- Low energy, little to no motivation
- Skin irritation, redness of skin
- Slowed breathing
- Involuntary muscle movements
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased libido
If you use ketamine and notice these signs or if you notice them in a loved one who you suspect may be abusing ketamine, an addiction to the drug may have developed.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Ketamine?
Chronic, extended use of ketamine is capable of producing troubling withdrawal symptoms about abrupt cessation.
According to Drugs.Com, the Symptoms of Ketamine Withdrawal Include:
- Teary eyes
- Drug cravings
- Excited State
How Dangerous is Ketamine?
Ketamine should not be used outside of a medical setting.
When it is, it poses great risks that can lead to death. How strong the drug’s effects depend on the dose taken. People who take low doses of ketamine may experience stimulant effects that make them feel numb and like they are floating and detached from their bodies.
Larger doses, which are above 200 mg, may produce what some call the “K hole,” which is when the user is fully sedated and has a near-death experience that some have called terrifying.
In this state, users can hurt themselves, hurt others, or be hurt and may not even realize it, because they do not feel like themselves since the medication blocks users from feeling pain. Injuries common among ketamine users include falls and other accidents.
High-dose use may cause users to feel withdrawn and not remember who they are or where they are. They also may feel their hearts race and have trouble breathing. Increased heart rate and blood pressure can cause one to have a stroke or heart attack.
Ketamine Use and Bladder Disease
Excessive ketamine use can cause bladder disease, a condition known as ketamine cystitis. Users may feel strong and frequent urges to urinate and may pass blood in the urine. They also may experience an increase in bladder pain, bladder spasms, and blood clots during urination, and an urgency to urinate with little to no urine to show for it.
An inability to urinate is also common in ketamine users who have this condition. Ketamine cystitis is often permanent in many cases in which heavy ketamine use is involved. It is possible for users to wear adult diapers if they become unable to control their urination. Kidney infection or kidney failure is possible as a result of ketamine use.
Using Ketamine With Other Drugs is Common
Some people who use ketamine, a depressant, also engage in polysubstance abuse, meaning they will use the drug with other addictive substances, such as alcohol, opiates, and stimulants like amphetamines, ecstasy (MDMA), and cocaine.
This is highly dangerous and not recommended. Using the drug with other depressants can lead to slowed breathing, coma, and death. Using it with stimulants can put a strain on the body and can cause the heart to speed up faster than its normal rate.
Ketamine sold in clubs may be mixed with other drugs, something users may or may not always be aware of.
The effects that result from this combination are unpredictable and possibly dangerous. Psychedelics such as LSD are also used along with ketamine.
Ketamine also has a reputation as a “date rape” drug. When used for that purpose, it is placed in the drink of an unsuspecting person who then blacks out and is unable to move after ingesting it. The person also experiences confusion and amnesia that makes it difficult to recall the sexual assault, if at all.
Over time, excessive ketamine addiction causes long-term effects, such as social withdrawal and memory loss. Users may find it difficult to feel happy or exhibit a reduced ability to learn new information. People who are in this state typically have a difficult time recovering from their addiction and need professional help to get off ketamine and get back to a state of health and sobriety.
Ketamine Addiction Potential
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), not much is definitively known about the addiction potential of ketamine or other hallucinogenic drugs outside of LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide). LSD is not considered addictive because it does not produce uncontrollable, drug-seeking behavior.
The information regarding ketamine abuse and addiction is scarce, so there is no clear, comprehensive indication that it generates dependence. Thus, whether ketamine is addictive will depend on the user. It’s worth noting that because it is considered a Schedule III drug, abuse could “lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.”
There are also accounts, such as this one, where ketamine addiction took the life of a young woman.
What is Involved in Ketamine Addiction Treatment?
Not all ketamine users will experience physical withdrawal, research shows, but some do. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, “To date, identifying physical withdrawal symptoms has been limited to only personal accounts, but research is ongoing.” However, ketamine withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological because users continue to think about the drug and take it to heighten their emotional state.
Some people will continue to use ketamine to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that follow a break in chronic use. When use is suddenly interrupted, this is known as going cold turkey, a practice that is strongly discouraged.
If you or someone you know wants to end ketamine use and dependence, do it safely and in the care of addiction health care professionals who can help wean you off the drug gradually and manage withdrawal symptoms. Doing it on your own can lead to overdose and relapse, and those can be life-threatening or fatal.
How Treatment Can Help Addicted Ketamine Users
People who are addicted to ketamine can find recovery support at a licensed drug rehabilitation facility. Once they have been admitted, they typically start the process with medical detoxification. This is done to rid the body of ketamine and any other toxins and help the client regain physical and mental stability. A detox can last anywhere from three to 10 days or longer if needed.
During this time, health care professionals monitor clients around-the-clock as they are weaned off the drug safely. This may include tapering off ketamine, which is when doses are gradually reduced over a set period to allow the body time to adjust to not having the drug in its system. Additional blood tests may be done to see if additional medications are needed to treat other chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, among others.
After a medical detox is completed, clients usually are evaluated before they enter a treatment program. An assessment helps ensure you or your loved one receives the proper diagnosis and treatment program that can best address the needs at hand.
You may be asked standard questions about your ketamine use and use of any other addictive substances. The assessment also helps determine whether a mental health disorder is present along with a substance use disorder (SUD). Having both is common.
Addicted ketamine users who use drugs or alcohol also may exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, or other mental health disorders. When both kinds of disorders are present, this is known as having a co-occurring disorder or dual-diagnosis. This is common among people who abuse drugs and alcohol.
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2015, among the 19.6 million adults with a past year Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD), 8.1 million (41.2 percent) had Any Mental Illness (AMI) in the past year. The more severe a person’s mental illness is, the more likely the person will abuse substances. Illegal ones that are commonly abused include alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.
After clients enter the right drug addiction treatment program, they will address the physical and psychological addiction. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. Inpatient treatment, which can last from 28-90 days in a facility, depending on the program, involves various therapies that can help the person overcome their addiction. Behavior therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy, can be beneficial. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps increase clients’ awareness of distorted thinking and maladaptive behavior patterns and teaches them coping strategies that can support them during the recovery process.
Treatment also can incorporate 12-step programs, holistic therapy, family therapy, and individual and group counseling. There is also outpatient treatment for people who may be in the early stages of stimulant addiction or have a mild case of it. Outpatient therapy does not require an on-site stay at a treatment center. This allows clients more flexibility as they work drug treatment into their schedules. However, outpatient clients are still required to attend structured sessions three to five times a week or more, depending on the situation.
Recovering ketamine users may want to consider using aftercare services to help them focus on their recovery goals and reduce their chances of relapse, a very real possibility for people in recovery. A relapse means a return to using drugs and alcohol after a period of abstinence. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), relapse happens to at least 40 percent to 60 percent of people in recovery.
A person may have to attend drug and/or alcohol rehab more than once or twice during their journey toward full-time sobriety. This does not mean treatment has failed, the agency says. Instead, it means that treatment needs to be reinstated, adjusted, or that another form of treatment is needed to help the person return to recovery.
Some people pursue follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, that can happen long after dependence on the drug has passed. Ketamine-related PAWS include anxiety, cognitive impairment, irritability, and depression.
Ketamine Abuse Statistics
- Ketamine became a controlled substance in 1999 because of the abuse that went on in clubs during the 1990s.
- Individuals aged 12 to 25 accounted for 74 percent of the ketamine emergency department mentions in the United States in 2000, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network.
- In 2014, 1.4 percent of 12th-graders reported using ketamine for recreational purposes. This was down from 2002 when 2.6 percent reported using it.
Get Ketamine Addiction Treatment in Florida
For more than 40 years, The Palm Beach Institute, located in West Palm Beach, Florida, has been the place people turned to either start their lives over after battling addiction or find help for their loved ones who are struggling to end their substance dependence. We have helped thousands of people recover from addiction and leave it behind once and for all.
If you or your loved one is seeking ketamine addiction treatment in Florida, the Palm Beach Institute can help. We use comprehensive and effective treatment and counseling strategies with our clients in either a group setting or one-on-one sessions. You will know you are not alone as others who are going through similar experiences will be right there beside you as you figure out your recovery path.
We understand that the decision to get help for an alcohol or drug problem is a huge step and important decision. Let us help you figure it out. We’ll guide you as you consider your next steps, including whether long-term residential treatment is right for you.
Our addiction recovery experience has equipped us with what we need to help you break free from the devastating effects of addiction. Call The Palm Beach Institute toll-free today to start your journey to sobriety.