Ketamine, also commonly called Special K, is most-well-known for its history as a club drug, which dates back to the 1970s. It’s also increasingly making the news as a drug which could potentially be used to treat severe depression, leading many users to accept the drug as safe for recreational use. The drug’s medical history also extends further back, with a start in medical use as an anesthetic during the 1960s on the battlefield in Vietnam. Today, Ketamine is a Schedule III drug, only legal for use as a veterinary anesthetic in the United States.
This background of medical use leads many people to believe Ketamine is safe to use, especially in clubs, but the drug is often dangerous, can cause strong hallucinations and temporary paralysis, and can cause auditory and visual disturbances that last after the drug wears off. If you or a loved one is using, it’s important for you to learn more about the drug, its side effects, and its potential repercussions on your long-term health.
Who Uses Ketamine?
Ketamine is used by thousands of people across the United States, for both self-medication and for recreational use in clubs, parties, at raves, and in schools.
Self-Medicating with Ketamine
Ketamine has increasingly been popularized as a potential anti-depressant, and while the studies which show its possible use as an antidepressant have not yet made it through FDA testing, many people choose to use the drug to self-medicate. Here, ketamine presents a high risk, because users who are self-medicating are not doing so with doctor’s supervision and may be at risk of overdose, drug toxification through taking ketamine cut with other substances, and increased risk of suicidal ideation, panic attacks and other problems relating to not taking medication proven to help and regulated to a dose that would help.
Self-medicating without supervision also results in a high rate of drug abuse and addiction, because users often increase their dose as tolerance increases. When an original dose no longer has the same effect, they take more – which becomes a negative cycle leading to true chemical dependence and problematic drug-seeking behavior.
Recreational Ketamine Use
Ketamine was originally developed as an alternative to PCP, but with stronger side-effects than the drug it was intended to replace, was eventually relegated for veterinary use. Today, the drug is sold as K, Special K, and sometimes Vitamin K on the street, and is very commonly used recreationally in the club and rave scene. The drug first arrived on the nightclub scene in the USA during the mid-1980s and was first used to enhance the effects of MDMA, amphetamines and other drugs. It was given a Schedule III classification in 1999 but use and popularity has continued to grow.
Typically, available as a powder, liquid, or in pills, Ketamine is imbibed on its own or with alcohol or tobacco to create a strong dissociative effect. Many users also experience euphoria, a feeling of togetherness, reduced inhibitions, and visual and auditory hallucinations, used to enhance the club or rave experience.
Like other club drugs, especially LSD and Ecstacy (MDMA), ketamine can cause wildly unpredictable effects. Users take it hoping to induce euphoria, but may experience reduced physical sensation, temporary paralysis, and frightening hallucinations. Many people combine ketamine with other drugs and alcohol, further complicating possible side-effects and increasing the risk of respiratory depression and death.
Here, Ketamine is increasingly abused by high-schoolers and college-age children, with an estimated 1.5% of all 12th graders consuming the drug, and 41,000 people between the age of 12 and 17 already having used the drug. SAMSHA reports that 540,000 people between the ages of 18 and 25 have used Ketamine, making it an extremely popular drug with younger club-goers.
Temporary Paralysis – In high doses, ketamine can sometimes cause temporary paralysis, where the user is awake and aware but unable to move. Here, the largest risk is increased heart rate through panic and a risk of choking, because the user will be unable to move their throat to clear it. Temporary paralysis can be extremely traumatic and anyone experiencing it should be taken to a hospital for treatment.
Symptoms of Ketamine Use
Ketamine typically creates the same symptoms in most users, which include:
- Respiratory depression
- Impaired cognition
- Nausea and vomiting
- Memory problems
Long-Term Effects of Ketamine Abuse
Most users take Ketamine at parties or raves because they assume it’s safe, but this is often far from the truth. Long-term ketamine abuse causes a range of health problems ranging from damage to the organs and bladder to severe abdominal pain and gastrointestinal tract inflammation which can hurt your ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food. Ketamine bladder syndrome happens over long-term use, where abusers lose control of the bladder, resulting in incontinence. This can result in blood in the urines and bladder ulcers which require medical attention to avoid further complications.
Ketamine Dependence and Addiction
Ketamine is not heavily dependence inducing like many drugs (benzodiazepines or opioids) but it can cause tolerance and addiction over time.
A frequent ketamine abuser will typically show signs including:
- Frequent distraction or difficulty concentrating
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Inability to feel physical pain
- Loss of coordination
- Skin rash or redness
- Incontinence and bladder pain
The most common sign of any form of addiction is an inability to stop using. If someone is generally preoccupied with a drug or putting themselves into a situation where they always use that drug, they are likely experiencing problems. This is truer when they allow the drug to conflict with responsibilities such as school, work, family, or friends.
Anyone who abuses ketamine regularly over a long period of time will develop ketamine dependency as the body adjusts to the substance. This process happens more quickly when users become tolerant and increase their dose over time but will occur in any instance where users regularly imbibe a substance.
Ketamine withdrawal is mild compared to some other drugs such as benzodiazepines but does occur and can last or weeks or months. In most cases, withdrawal symptoms begin 24-72 hours after the last dose and will last for 4-6 days with medical care and up to weeks or months without it.
Symptoms typically include:
- Loss of appetite
- Tremors or shaking
- Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
- Insomnia and nightmares
- Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Here, the largest risk is often depression, where users can experience extreme emotional blunting. This occurs when a drug abuser frequently gets high with a drug, flooding the brain and body with artificial neurotransmitters. Over time, the brain stops producing dopamine and serotonin on its own, and the user will feel extremely sad, depressed, and “down”, when off the drug. In some cases, sudden depression can result in suicidal ideation.
Getting Help for Ketamine Abuse
Ketamine is a drug and like many others, is dependence inducing. Long-term abuse can cause serious side-effects and will impact your physical and mental health. If dependence happens, addiction and problematic and harmful drug-seeking behavior will follow. Ketamine addiction is a serious problem and will result in long-term damage to the organs and brain. Withdrawal symptoms can also prevent many users from quitting on their own, as anxiety, paranoia, and emotional blunting kick in when users attempt to quit.
If you or a loved one is addicted, there is help. A drug detox and rehabilitation program can help your loved one through ketamine withdrawal and into long-term recovery. With detox including anti-depressants to ensure that your loved one makes it safely through withdrawal, cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling to tackle the underlying issues behind drug use, and therapy and help to build the skills and coping necessary to manage stress and cravings that could lead to a relapse, rehabilitation is the best way to ensure your loved one safely recovers and moves on to a long drug-free life. Please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today for more information. We are to help and happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors.