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Ketamine Addiction and Abuse

Abused by many young people at clubs and raves, ketamine is a hallucinogenic drug. It is sometimes used as a tranquilizer for humans and animals.

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Addiction to Ketamine

An addiction to ketamine is difficult to overcome without help. Even when someone wants to stop using the drug, chemical changes in the brain make it nearly impossible to stop without professional help.

Once an individual crosses into the addicted state, they spend their days feeling utterly detached from their surroundings, and become incapable of leading a normal, productive life. They are usually cognitively impaired at this stage, with speech and memory both affected.

Signs of an addiction to ketamine include:

  • Increasing the amount of use
  • Becoming obsessed with the next hit
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on the drug
  • Failing to keep up with responsibilities such as school and work
  • Building up a tolerance and needing more and more to feel the high
  • Neglecting friends and family

Seeking professional help is key to recovery from ketamine addiction. Treatment can help stabilize the brain’s chemical balance, making it easier to begin the psychological recovery process.

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Understanding Ketamine

Ketamine—also referred to as Special K, Kit Kat, cat valium, Dorothy or Vitamin K—is an anesthetic for animals that is abused as a recreational drug. It is especially popular in the club scene among young adults.

Ketamine is defined as a dissociative anesthetic due to its sedating effects, which produce an out-of-body experience where the user feels detached from themselves and their surroundings. Ketamine also distorts the user’s perceptions of sight and sound and can make it difficult to move. At extremely high doses, users have reported feeling as if a “near-death experience” is happening. Other users report that they experience a “state of utter bliss” on Ketamine. Ketamine is sometimes used in medical settings, such as to sedate children who have had adverse reactions to other anesthetic medications, as well as in radiation and burn therapy. It is also used in situations where sedation is necessary but stronger anesthetics may be too much for the individual to handle.

Ketamine (sold under brand name Ketalar) is a schedule III controlled substance, the same category as codeine and anabolic steroids. Schedule III substances can lead to physical dependence, but are very likely to lead to psychological dependence.

Ketamine has a short-lived high and tolerance to the drug builds up quickly, requiring user to keep increasing quantities as they chase the initial high.

It is illegal to use ketamine without a doctor’s prescription.

Ketamine is produced as a liquid, which can be injected; as a white or off-white powder, which is snorted or dissolved in water and drank; or as a pill. It has been used as a date rape drug because it is odorless and colorless and is not detected by the victim in a beverage, often rendering its victim completely helpless.

Ketamine Effects and Abuse

Ketamine is a dissociative hallucinogenic tranquilizer that causes the user to experience a full-body buzz resulting in a pronounced sense of relaxation. Typically, the high lasts less than an hour. Higher doses (typically injections) can lead to an effect known as the “K-hole,” where the individual has what is described as a near-death or out-of-body experience, feeling completely detached from reality. The anesthetic properties can cause the person to feel numb, which may lead to accidents and serious injuries while under its influence.

It’s a really ugly thing for people to look at, but you’re personally in the total state of bliss and happiness. But when other people see you, you’re drooling on yourself and can’t stand up.

- Heavy ketamine user Chris, National Geographic video “The K-Hole”

Due to the unpredictable nature of ketamine, it is difficult for the user to gauge how much is too much. Sometimes an overdose can occur after a small dose of ketamine, especially if other drugs or alcohol have also been ingested. Many accidental overdoses occur when a user attempts to reach the “K-hole.” Because it is a tranquilizer, complete loss of mobility can occur, which is especially dangerous if the user cannot ask for help. Respiratory failure is the leading cause of death from a ketamine overdose.

Other adverse side effects of ketamine use include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Respiratory issues
  • Flashbacks of hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Long-term cognitive difficulties

Physical effects from ketamine, even at small doses for short periods of time, can also cause side effects that last for up to 24 hours after the last dose. Some of the common prolonged side-effects include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Stumbling
  • Muscle weakness

The Ketamine Comedown

Even after using Ketamine for a brief period of time, there is a high probability that a user will experience what is called a “comedown.” This comedown is a drug-induced equivalent to a hangover and can be intense and dangerous. Since Ketamine is designed as a sedative, it is very likely for users to experience intense confusion and delirium when the initial peek effects or “high” dissipates. These individuals may also experience physical and muscle weakness, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. They also may experience numbness, impaired vision, and severe confusion that often leads to aggressive behavior, amnesia, and delirium. These symptoms are more likely to occur at higher doses of ketamine, via repeated use over too many hours, or when combining ketamine with alcohol or other drugs.

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Common Ketamine Drug Combinations

Ketamine is often combined with other drugs, which can make the negative side effects of the drug even worse. Ketamine in its liquid form can be easily mixed into an alcoholic beverage or added to marijuana or tobacco products. Mixing it with alcohol or other depressants is especially dangerous, as ketamine is a depressant.

Combining ketamine with other depressants may lead to a serious reduction in heart rate and respiratory function.

As a powder, ketamine can be combined with other powdered drugs such as MDMA, also known as ecstasy, and pressed into a tablet form or placed into a capsule. Mixing these drugs can be especially dangerous, as MDMA is a stimulant and ketamine a depressant. Other drugs that are commonly mixed with ketamine are other psychedelics, such as LSD and DMT.

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Ketamine Abuse Statistics



According to the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center, individuals aged 12 to 25 accounted for 74 percent of the ketamine emergency department visits in the United States in the year 2000.



According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the United States, an estimated 2.3 million people aged 12 or older used ketamine in their lifetimes, with 203,000 users in 2013.



In 2006, the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey showed three percent of high school seniors had used the drug at least once that year.


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