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Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that was developed in the 1960s to replace phencyclidine or PCP, a drug that had been used as an anesthetic but was found to be highly addictive and dangerous. Ketamine is used as an anesthetic by veterinarians, and it is currently used in initiating anesthesia for surgical patients, to sedate patients in intensive care (especially burn patients), and for other types of pain relief in some cases. Ketamine is also under investigation for its potential to be a useful treatment for individuals suffering from major depressive disorder.
The actions of ketamine are not fully understood at this time; however, it is believed that ketamine’s primary function is to block the actions of the excitatory neurotransmitter N-methyl–d-aspirate (NDMA) in the brain. This action results in the suppression of a number of functions, including the sensation of pain and perhaps even feelings of depression and anxiety.
Ketamine has hallucinogenic properties, and these properties made it popular drug of abuse among certain subcultures on the West Coast in the 1970s. Ketamine is typically marketed as an injectable drug; however, individuals who illegally obtain the drug transform it into different forms, such as powder, crystals, and tablets. The drug became popular in the dance club scene and still remains popular with young individuals due to its euphoric effects and hallucinogenic properties. It is often abused in conjunction with ecstasy. Since the drug is a Schedule III controlled substance, these uses of ketamine are obviously illicit.
Ketamine is frequently abused orally in pill form or snorted as a powder. Snorting ketamine results in the effects appearing rather rapidly (typically within 5-15 minutes after use), whereas taking ketamine in pill form results in the effects typically occurring within 5-30 minutes after ingestion. Ketamine is a fast-acting drug, and for most individuals, the effects last for about an hour. That being said, individuals who have used ketamine often experience cognitive effects, such as confusion, amnesia, problem-solving difficulties, engaging in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, and other issues for 24 hours following discontinuation.
Some signs of abuse of ketamine include:
According to the book Ketamine Use and Abuse, when administered by physicians using the drug for medicinal purposes, ketamine is generally safe. Individuals who abuse ketamine typically experience elevated mood, visual hallucinations, feeling as if events are not real, feeling as if they are detached from their body or that they are not real, and even pleasant dreams. However, there are also some known side effects that occur with repeated use of ketamine.
Individuals who have substance use disorders will need professional treatment to assist them in recovery. Individuals who have developed a hallucinogen use disorder as a result of ketamine use will require a couple of special considerations and need to engage in intensive treatment. Treatment may entail the following: