Ketamine is a potent anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects, commonly used in veterinary medicine. The drug is often misused in the nightclub scene and is popular in certain dance cultures for its trance-like effects. Ketamine has a range of adverse side effects and can lead to addiction. Learning more about the drug and its impact on health can help prevent the worst-case scenario. If you are struggling with addiction to ketamine, Safe Harbor can provide treatment in its drug rehab facility.
This substance is a dissociative anesthetic. It causes an antidepressant effect and can be taken orally, nasally, or intravenously. Two dissociative anesthetics were initially developed as general anesthetics during surgery: PCP (phencyclidine) and ketamine. However, due to its addictive properties, doctors have been using ketamine more often in animal surgeries than in humans.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientists believe dissociative drugs work by disrupting the action of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain. By doing so, they affect the body’s perception of pain, memory, and responses to external stimuli.1
Apart from causing sedation, dissociative drugs can produce an out-of-body experience where a person will feel detached from themselves and the surrounding environment. Ketamine can induce an experience of distorted perception of sight and sound and might cause trouble with movement. Some people report feelings of bliss and happiness after taking large doses. Others report feeling as though a near-death experience is taking place.
It’s classified as a Schedule III controlled substance due to its potential for abuse and addiction. Drugs in this class have a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. The abuse potential of these drugs is less than Schedule I and Schedule II drugs but more than Schedule IV. Other drugs in this class include anabolic steroids and testosterone.
Ketamine has been abused in a range of different ways, including by snorting it, injecting it, or taking it orally. It’s initially made in a liquid state before it’s converted to fine white powder.
Ketamine has a wide range of street names. The most common include:
Special La Coke
This substance is abused by being injected, snorted, or swallowed. When sold illegally, it comes as a white crystalline powder. It can be made into tablets and pills or dissolved in a liquid. It can also be mixed with cannabis or tobacco and smoked. The amount of time it takes for ketamine’s effects to begin depends on how it is consumed. If injected, it takes about 30 seconds. If snorted, it will take 5-10 minutes, and if swallowed, it will take 20 minutes. The effects usually last between 45 and 90 minutes.
It can be addictive when used in social settings. The sense of euphoria and disconnection it creates is very appealing to some people at raves.
Recreational use of the drug has been growing since it appeared on the drug scene. It has been known to be abused by high school students and young adults to achieve a hallucinatory, dream-like state.
In fact, ketamine can be addictive in the same way as opioids as they affect the brain in similar ways.
Regular ketamine use can cause tolerance to the drug. This means a higher dose of Ketamine is required to induce the same effects.
People who have a history of substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, are more prone to developing an addiction. Ketamine also has a high potential for abuse by people who are trying to self-medicate depression or suicidal ideation as it can offer relief from these states.
A report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that people aged 18-25 have the highest rate of abuse at 0.2%. The average rate of use among anyone 12 or older is 0.1%. The drug acts quickly, especially if snorted or injected. The most intense effects tend to last for an hour.
SAMHSA reported that in 2013, 41,000 people aged 12-17 had used ketamine at some point in their lives. Additionally, it found that nearly 540,000 people aged 18-25 reported using ketamine at some point.
Some signs of ketamine use disorder can include:
Frequent state of distraction or drowsiness
Fatigue or lack of motivation
Reduced ability to feel physical pain
Loss of coordination
Redness of the skin
Ketamine can have many benefits in animal and human surgical procedures, where it is used to block pain. Moreover, doctors have found that it also works for treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In 2019, the FDA approved a nasal spray called Spravato that contains the active drug esketamine. Esketamine mirrors the chemical properties of ketamine. Supposedly, the drug can help treat depression.
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. In 2017, nearly 17.3 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode . This number represented 7.1% of all U.S. adults. Moreover, suicide rates due to depression have increased significantly by more than 30% in 25 states between 1999 and 2016. Doctors are hopeful that ketamine will have a pivotal role to play in the prevention of suicides.
However, when used outside of clinical settings, ketamine can be dangerous. The recreational use of ketamine is becoming more popular due to its:
Dissociative and paralytic effects
Ease of availability
The drug has a potential for abuse as some people use it recreationally. It has also been used as a “date rape drug” at parties.
Ketamine is generally not fatal when taken on its own. However, many people combine it with other substances, including hallucinogens like LSD and PCP. When it’s mixed with another substance, it can lead to fatal toxicity. For example, if mixed with a central nervous depressant like alcohol, it can cause sedation and possibly death.
Another concern with ketamine is its potential to lead to hallucinations. Ketamine effects are varied and very unpredictable. In some cases, it can cause happiness and euphoria, but in other cases, it can lead to frightening hallucinations. Due to the feelings of body detachment it creates, it can also make people prone to accidents and hurting themselves.
Ketamine could also cause temporary paralysis, making it difficult for a person to clear their airway. This could lead to choking and even death from aspiration.
The short-term side effects of ketamine can vary. There are several factors at play, including:
How much was used
The size, weight, and overall health of the person
Whether it was taken in combination with other drugs
The strength of the drug
In general, a person taking low doses of ketamine will experience the following short-term effects:
Distorted sights and sounds
Feelings of calmness and relaxation
Loss of memory
Loss of attention
At higher doses, ketamine can cause:
Ketamine is particularly dangerous to mix with other substances, including over-the-counter or prescribed medications.
Mixing ketamine with alcohol or opiates can lead to a lack of awareness of the effects of the drugs. This can result in taking too much, vomiting, slowed breathing, coma, and death. Mixing ketamine with amphetamines, ecstasy, and cocaine can put an enormous strain on the body, which can result in a fast heart rate.
Regular use of ketamine can lead to long-term effects, including:
Poor sense of smell
Mood swings and personality changes
Long-term hallucinogenic or psychotic effects may include confusion, loss of reality-based sensory experiences, speaking difficulties, and mind/body dissociation.
Another severe and frequently irreversible side effect of recreational ketamine use is damage to the urinary tract. It has been estimated that over 20% of people who abuse ketamine experience urinary tract symptoms. It’s a painful condition that can result in difficulty holding in urine and incontinence. Ending use early is the best chance to reduce long-term effects.2
Ketamine induces a sensation of detachment from body and surroundings with a “floating, out-of-body” experience, but the effects are short-term, and tolerance can quickly develop. Tolerance is when larger and more frequent doses of the drug are needed to experience the same effects. Although ketamine has a low potential for overdose, tragedies happen when it’s mixed with other substances or falsely sold as ecstasy.
On its own, ketamine can rarely lead to overdose. However, an overdose is possible if the person takes a large amount of a strong batch. Some of the symptoms of an overdose include:
Inability to move
High body temperature
Coma and "near-death" experiences
Ketamine withdrawal can last from 72 hours to a few weeks. Symptoms usually appear between 24 to 72 hours after the last dose of the drug.
Withdrawal from ketamine is different from person to person. The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms and the length of the withdrawal period depend on a few factors, such as:
How often the drug was abused
The amount taken
The strength of the drug
If other drugs were also taken
The person’s body
Ketamine withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as other drugs, and it’s not life-threatening. However, the symptoms can be uncomfortable and might prevent normal functionality. In general, the withdrawal symptoms last for 4-6 days. They include:
Cravings for ketamine
Loss of motor skills
Irregular and rapid heartbeat
Extended and excessive use of ketamine can lead to psychological dependence. When a person with a ketamine use disorder stops taking the drug, a range of psychological withdrawal symptoms can take place.
Dangerous psychological symptoms appear because ketamine alters the brain’s chemistry. The most dangerous symptoms are nightmares, anxiety, and intense depression that can lead to an increased risk of suicide.
Although ketamine withdrawal symptoms tend to stabilize after two weeks, the nerve cell damage in the brain might be permanent. As a result, the psychological side effects might persist.
A person experiencing ketamine withdrawal might become emotionally unstable and require a safe environment to be protected and to protect those around them. Professional detox at a recommended rehab center is the best option for a safe and controlled withdrawal process.
During detox, the body will be cleared of all toxins. As the best way to stop a ketamine addiction is by going “cold turkey,” the detox process can be very uncomfortable and challenging. Intense cravings, along with feelings of nausea, fatigue, and restlessness, can occur. Medications may be prescribed to help minimize the withdrawal symptoms.
Ketamine addiction can be a serious problem. Not only does a ketamine use disorder make day-to-day functioning a challenge, but there is also a range of physical and psychological symptoms that might take place. One of the most dangerous long-term physical side effects is damage to the urinary tract. There is also the risk of developing psychological symptoms, such as intense depression and anxiety.
The best way to recover from ketamine dependence is by entering a ketamine addiction treatment center. Here, patients can receive treatment in a safe and comfortable environment, away from triggers and their old way of life. The medical staff on-site can help the patient through their recovery phases and offer helpful insights and tools for how to manage cravings and control impulses.
There are two types of rehab centers:
For many people suffering from a ketamine use disorder, inpatient care is the best way to recover, especially if they have been using the drug for a long time and need a safe place to stay. Many inpatient rehab centers offer treatment programs for ketamine addiction that can last anywhere from 28 days to a few months. This type of care involves 24/7 medical supervision and clinical guidance.
Because ketamine use disorder comes with a set of mental health issues, the patient will participate in different types of therapies, including:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that addresses thinking patterns that affect behaviors. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) introduces mindful awareness and stress management.
An effective treatment program involves identifying the psychological issues that might be the root cause of the addiction and the triggers that could lead to relapse. If these issues are not treated, there is a high chance that the patient will relapse back into ketamine use. The more structured and well-rounded the treatment program is, the higher the chance for long-term sobriety.
A range of activities might be part of the treatment program include:
Comprehensive evaluation and treatment planning
In some cases, outpatient care might be a better option. Outpatient is recommended if the patient is experiencing a milder addiction and has a safe place to stay while they are undergoing treatment. During outpatient care, the patient lives off-site but attends therapy on-site a few times per week.
Although outpatient care is less structured than inpatient care, the person participates in a variety of activities, including group therapy, one-on-one sessions, 12-step meetings, or cognitive therapy. Depending on the type of treatment center, the program might also involve holistic activities such as meditation and yoga.
By regularly attending support group meetings and talking to a counselor, it’s possible to learn tools and techniques for living a healthier lifestyle and developing healthy thinking patterns.
Ketamine addiction treatment shouldn’t stop with inpatient/outpatient rehab. For a successful recovery, there’s a need for continuous monitoring and support. There should be a support system in place to provide a sense of community and accountability.
At the end of inpatient or outpatient care, patients are encouraged to work with a therapist to develop an aftercare plan. The purpose of an aftercare plan is to help patients maintain their sobriety, find meaning in life, and create healthy relationships with themselves, friends, and family.
Although each person receives a customized plan, some common components of a typical aftercare treatment plan include:
Participation in a 12-step or alternative support group
Relapse prevention programming
First used during surgery, ketamine has gained a reputation as a popular party scene drug, widely used at raves. Although it has shown promise in the treatment of depression and alcohol addiction, it can cause severe physical and psychological side effects when it’s used outside of treatment purposes.
Ketamine addiction is a serious problem. Not only does the drug make it challenging to function in everyday life, but it can also have serious long-term health effects.
If a person becomes dependent on ketamine, many inpatient and outpatient rehab centers can help. A range of different types of therapy, such as dialectical behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, are used to help the patient recover. Ongoing recovery efforts, including support groups, have also been proven to be effective.
This information should not replace a visit to a doctor or treatment center. If you are concerned that you or your loved one might be suffering from ketamine addiction, ask for professional help today.