Considered a “club drug” with legal medicinal uses, primarily in veterinary medicine as an anesthetic, ketamine is a dissociative, hallucinogenic, and pain-blocking drug that may produce distortions of reality, sedation, and a feeling of being disconnected from oneself and pain when abused recreationally. Called special K, cat valium, jet, kit kat, super acid, cat tranquilizer, vitamin K, and K, ketamine may be distributed in a clear liquid form or in a white or off-white powder to be snorted, injected, smoked (often in a tobacco or marijuana cigarette), or even swallowed.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that a “special K trip” may be more desirable than some of the other hallucinogens, like PCP and LSD, since the effects may be shorter, generally between 30 minutes to an hour, as opposed to several hours. Ketamine may be most commonly abused by teenagers and young adults. The 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that 1.4 percent of high school seniors had tried ketamine at least once in the past year.
Short-Term Effects of Ketamine
Ketamine may have different affects on different people and in different doses. It is a hallucinogenic drug that has dissociative and anesthetic effects at varying degrees. It may be used as a “date rape drug” due to its amnesiac effects, wherein the user may not remember the events that transpired while under its influence.
According to the DEA, slang for experiences related to ketamine abuse include:
- K-Land: Users feel mellow and “see” colors.
- Baby food: Users return to an infantile-like state of being inert and blissful.
- God: Users feel that they have experienced or seen a higher power.
- K-Hole: Users have an out-of-body and perceived near-death experience.
Some of the side effects of ketamine may begin within minutes of taking the drug and include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Dream-like state
- Feeling of being dissociated from oneself
- Blockage of pain sensations
- Memory lapses
- Immobility or inability to move
- Feelings of relaxation and calm
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed breathing
- Involuntary eye movement
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle stiffening
- Tearing up
Ketamine may be abused with other drugs or alcohol, which can increase potential side effects and raise the risk for a possibly fatal overdose. An overdose on ketamine may occur when the drug overwhelms the body, and toxic levels of it cause breathing to slow to dangerously low levels. With overdose, the individual may become unconscious. Even one dose of ketamine can have disastrous consequences.
Health Concerns of Long-Term Abuse
Ketamine may cause a multitude of problems when abused regularly or for a long period of time. Ketamine makes changes in the brain, and with chronic use, some of these changes may become ingrained. A tolerance to the drug may be established, meaning that an individual will need to take more of it in order to keep feeling its effects. Increasing the dosage of ketamine can raise the odds that someone may develop a chemical dependence on the drug, and the brain may rely on it presence to feel good, resulting in drug cravings and depression when the drug leaves the system. Addiction and compulsive drug seeking behaviors may follow.
Long-term use of ketamine may cause stomach issues, bladder pain, ulcers, kidney problems, depression, and memory problems, NIDA reports. Flashbacks to feelings or experiences that manifested while on a “special K trip” may strike without warning days, weeks, months, or even years after using ketamine.
Brain damage may also occur with frequent ketamine abuse. The journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy reports on neuroimaging and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) taken of brains of people addicted to ketamine that showed legions and atrophy in many regions of the brain within 2-4 years after ketamine addiction was established. Long-term, frequent ketamine abuse may also cause issues with cognition, short-term memory, verbal and visual learning abilities, concentration, and attention, as well as an overall worsening of psychological wellbeing, Reuters publishes. Mild delusions may also be side effects of chronic ketamine abuse or addiction. Recreational users who stop abusing ketamine may be able to reverse these negative effects on the brain.
Spotting Ketamine Abuse or Addiction
Signs of ketamine abuse and/or addiction may include:
- The presence of small glass vials or plastic baggies; folds of paper, glassine, or foil; or capsules – potentially with a white powder residue on them
- Finding needles, syringes, rubber tubing, or shoelaces
- Periods of seeming “out of it”
- Mood swings and shifts in personality
- Attending all-night parties or raves regularly
- Differences in sleeping patterns
- Changes in appetite and potential weight fluctuation
- Increased secrecy and withdrawal from family and friends
- Lack of interest in things that used to be important to them
- Drop in grades at school or production at work
- Inability to consistently fulfill family, school, or work obligations
- Increased risk-taking behaviors and potentially hazardous sexual encounters
- Lapses in memory (an inability to remember the previous night, for example)
- Financial or legal difficulties
- Trouble concentrating, remembering things, or other mental and cognitive difficulties
- Difficulties communicating effectively
- Restlessness, irritability, and hostility or violent behavior
When ketamine abuse or addiction is suspected, there are many treatment options to facilitate a smooth recovery.
Treatment for Ketamine Abuse, Dependency, and Addiction
The severity of dependence on or addiction to ketamine determines the level of treatment that may be best suited, as each individual will benefit from different methods of care. Someone who experiences physical and psychological withdrawal, such as anxiety, depression, tremors, insomnia, and irregular heart rate, body temperature, and heart rate, will benefit from medical detox to stabilize the body first. Medical detox may be provided in a specialized facility offering around-the-clock medical monitoring and care until the drug is completely and safely removed from the bloodstream. Anti-anxiety, antidepressants, or other medications may be useful during medical detox to help with withdrawal side effects and other mental health concerns.
After detox, individuals can choose from either residential or outpatient care. Both forms of care should provide some form of behavioral and psychological therapy. Residential treatment is more comprehensive, as the individual will stay onsite for a period of time in order to receive care in a structured environment 24 hours a day. Addiction is a treatable disease, and with the right level of care and support, recovery is within reach.