Ketamine (also known as Special K) is an anesthetic drug that also has some psychedelic properties. It alters sensory perception and can produce intense feelings of detachment from oneself and the external world. For these reasons and others, it is a common drug of abuse.
In a clinical setting, ketamine is used as anesthesia before surgery on both humans and animals. It can be found in the form of a white powder or clear liquid. Also, esketamine (e.g., Ketanest and Spravato) is a substance within ketamine approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in 2019 for use in those who experience treatment-resistant depression. It can be administered as a nasal spray or by injection.
When used for recreational purposes, ketamine is commonly injected, although the powdered form can also be snorted or consumed orally. Ketamine is sometimes used in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol to amplify effects.
There is little evidence that implies ketamine has the potential to result in a physical dependency. However, some chronic abusers can develop an emotional dependence or addiction and experience cravings for the drug when attempting to reduce use or quit altogether. Over time, tolerance can also increase, which will require them to need ever-increasing amounts to achieve the sought-after effects.
The development of tolerance can compel many people to engage in drug-seeking behavior and binge-like patterns of use. When binging, an individual will repeatedly use the drug in a relatively brief episode.
Psychiatrically, ketamine withdrawal is similar to that of other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, and can produce intense cravings. Adverse psycho-emotional effects, such as anxiety and depression, are common with ketamine, but physical symptoms tend to be mild or non-existent.
Short and Long-Term Effects of Ketamine
Ketamine will typically induce a sudden high that lasts for about an hour. Unlike other dissociative drugs, such as phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine is relatively short-acting. An injection can produce a high in less than a minute, and snorting or smoking can lead to an onset of effects in under five minutes.
Anecdotally, users report feeling an overwhelming sense of relaxation as if they are floating or having an out-of-body experience. Hallucinations can also transpire and persist beyond the relaxation stage.
As with any intoxicating substance, excessive doses will likely lead to amplified effects, which users often cite as similar to a near-death experience. This overall effect has been referred to as a “K-hole” and can provoke unpleasant auditory and visual hallucinations in conjunction with feelings of derealization and detachment from reality.
Other common side effects of ketamine include the following:
- Stomach pain
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
Also, because ketamine mitigates an individual’s perception of pain, a user can accidentally injure themselves. These injuries can be particularly problematic if the user fails to seek medical treatment promptly due to intoxication and can lead to additional complications.
Chronic Effects of Ketamine
The chronic (long-term) effects of ketamine abuse are not wholly understood, especially since ketamine is often abused in combination with other substances. However, some evidence suggests that extended use can result in a thickening of the urinary tract and bladder. The bladder may have to be removed if they experience difficulty with urination. As with many intoxicating substances, ketamine abuse has also been linked to kidney problems.
If you suspect that you or someone else is suffering from a ketamine overdose, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible. Overdoses are typically treated in a clinical environment, and adverse effects are likely to resolve in under three hours.
Respiratory support is seldom required, but additional ventilation or oxygen may be prudent in some cases. Life-threatening central nervous system depression is more likely to occur if ketamine was used in conjunction with other sedating substances.
Managing Withdrawal Symptoms
Psycho-emotional withdrawal symptoms that onset as a result of long-term or repeated ketamine use can often be managed using a progressive tapering or weaning of the drug dosage over a few weeks, as directed by a physician or addiction specialist. When this method is used, the individual’s system can gradually adapt to receiving smaller and smaller amounts of the drug. This way, psychological withdrawal symptoms will be minimized compared to quitting suddenly or “cold turkey.”
Treatment for Ketamine Abuse
Ketamine is an intoxicating and potentially psychologically addictive drug that can result in severe mental distress and intense cravings upon abrupt discontinuation. Comprehensive treatment, including detox, therapy, counseling, art and music therapy, and group support, is highly recommended for recovery from ketamine abuse.
Just Believe Recovery offers these treatments in multiple formats with varying degrees of flexibility. Most ketamine abusers also suffer from polysubstance addiction or a co-occurring mental health condition. For this reason, treatment is intended to address these issues concurrently with the abuse of ketamine itself.