Also known as Special K and Vitamin K, Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug.
Primarily used in veterinary medicine today, ketamine was used for surgical procedures and to treat pain in humans in recent decades. While is does provide pain relief, it doesn’t work in the same way that most analgesics do — by shutting off pain receptors. Instead, ketamine turns the brain off through glutamine receptors that seemingly disconnect it from the body.
Ketamine was added to the United States’ list of controlled substances back in 1999, the Partnership for a Drug-Free World notes. However, the drug was actually first introduced in 1962 during the Vietnam War as an alternative to PCP. Illicit use of the drug followed just three years later, but it took a couple decades for it to reach the club scene — what it is most known for in history.
Use and Abuse
Typically, Ketamine is used to alleviate the sensation of pain in human or animal patients during surgical procedures. In addition, the drug sedates the body and prevents motor functions so one cannot move. When abused, the risk of overdose is always present.
The most common form of ketamine is a white powder, which people typically snort or swallow, though some will dissolve it for injection use. The tablet form of ketamine has actually lost popularity since its club days, but many will still crush and dilute the tablets to mix them with other substances — usually stimulants. The pharmaceutical version of ketamine that is used in medical and veterinary facilities is liquid in form.
Some physicians are now using the hallucinogenic-like drug to treat patients with major depression — a disorder WebMD notes as many as 14 million people suffer from. Of those who suffer, 30 to 40 percent have little to no chance at improvement or recovery with antidepressants.
Snorting ketamine is thought to be the most ineffective method of ingestion, merely because the high doesn’t last very long in comparison to other methods of ingestion. Those other methods are met with more risk though, since they require larger doses. Most who swallow ketamine will mix it with a tea or other beverage. Unfortunately, many will mix it into alcoholic cocktails. Since both alcohol and ketamine are depressants, they both slow breathing and reduce lung capacity, which can lead to coma and have fatal results.
SAMHSA notes in a 2006 study that 2.3 million people aged 12 or older reported using ketamine at some point in their lives, with 203,000 being past-year users. Thus, many ketamine abusers are minors. In 2011, Monitoring the Future notes 0.8 percent of 8th graders, 1.2 percent of 10th graders, and 1.7 percent of 12th graders reported past-year use of ketamine.
Some people have been accused of using ketamine unknowingly on date rape victims. The potential for this is high since users are essentially put out by the drug and won’t remember anything that happened while under its influence. Furthermore, ketamine may lower inhibitions and make an abuser more inclined to participate in sex with strangers or unprotected sex.
Traditionally a huge part of the club scene, ketamine has been a fan favorite in recent decades among the gay community. Daily Mail reported on a 2012 study in which gay, lesbian and bisexual people were 13 times more likely to use ketamine than the general population.
The mentally ill population is also more likely to engage in any form of substance abuse, and ketamine is no exception. In fact, it is plausible that someone with a mood disorder like bipolar or a neurological disorder like epilepsy may prefer the physical sedation that ketamine provides while it keeps the mind so alert.
A Time for Healing
Withdrawal syndrome is common when coming off ketamine. Standard withdrawal symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, depression and anxiety. Some fans of the drug will claim it isn’t addictive, but treatment admissions for ketamine addiction show otherwise. The physical dependency on ketamine is not as strong as that which comes with other substances like alcohol or heroin. However, ketamine can impact mental abilities and lead to frustration, so many abusers will keep using it in effort to cope with these side effects.
You may benefit from a low-dose benzodiazepine treatment plan during withdrawal that will calm anxious effects. Co-occurring mental health problems will require more involved treatment plans that take the symptoms of these disorders into account. For example, someone who suffers from depression in addition to ketamine addiction may experience suicidal thoughts during withdrawal and would be best suited for an inpatient treatment program.
The options available in treatment are numerous. By calling today, you can learn more about the right choice for you or your loved one.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton