Ketamine is classified as a Schedule III controlled substance in the United States by the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA. This classification means that ketamine does have some accepted medical uses; however, it also has the potential to be abused and diverted.
What Is Ketamine?
Legitimately used as a veterinary anesthetic, ketamine is a drug that is often abused, as it is a dissociative anesthetic when used recreationally by humans. Producing hallucinations and detachment from a person’s environment, pain, and self, ketamine is classified as a “club drug” by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Club drugs are often abused by adolescents and young adults, particularly in the nightclub, party, bar, or rave scene. These drugs are used to enhance these experiences.
Psychotherapeutic drugs like ketamine are abused most often by individuals between the ages of 18 and 25, according to NIDA. A study on young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 was performed on New York City on individuals who regularly go to clubs. The results, as published in the Journal of Urban Health, indicated that white males abuse ketamine most frequently.
Ketamine is generally found in powder or liquid form. It may be smoked, snorted, ingested, injected, or added to drinks. On the street, ketamine is referred to as:
- Special K
- Cat valium
- Vitamin K
- Kit kat
- Cat tranquilizer
- Super acid
- Special la coke
Individuals who attend all-night dance parties, or raves, may be exposed to ketamine and other club drugs at high rates. Ketamine may be desirable due to the “high” and mind-altering effects it can produce. Club drugs, including ketamine, have unpredictable effects and may have hazardous consequences from just one use.
Ketamine may be regularly mixed with other substances, particularly alcohol, with potentially disastrous results. Mixing a drug like ketamine with alcohol can increase the side effects of both substances.
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Spotting Ketamine Abuse and Addiction
Ketamine may come in small glass vials as a liquid, in capsule form, as a powder in small plastic bags, or as a powder in folds of foil or paper. The DEA reports that it is not often sold on the street, but is rather passed around at raves, parties, nightclubs, and between friends.
Ketamine takes effect in as little as a few minutes, only lasting about a half-hour to an hour. Blood pressure and heart rate are raised initially, although they start to slow about halfway through the “trip.” Ketamine can produce immobility and a lack of response to outside stimuli. A person under the influence of ketamine may experience involuntary and rapid eye movements, muscle stiffness, salivation, nausea, increased tearing, and dilated pupils.
There are four different levels of a ketamine “high,” referred to by various slang terms. Hallucinations may differ as described below:
- K-land: Hallucinations may be colorful and mellow.
- K-hole: Individuals may experience an out-of-body type of hallucination.
- Baby food: Ketamine may render a person immobile and return them to an infantile state wherein they are happy and inert.
- God: Individuals may swear that they have met their maker while under the influence of ketamine.
Ketamine can also have negative side effects when abused, including anxiety, agitation, depression, amnesia, loss of consciousness, and difficulties thinking and making decisions. If used regularly, individuals may become tolerant to certain levels of ketamine and therefore need to take more to feel its effects. NIDA reports that drug cravings may also be a side effect of regular ketamine abuse.
Ketamine may also be addictive, and individuals who use it on a regular basis may lose their ability to control their ketamine use. Mood swings and out-of-character behaviors may become common. Individuals may withdraw socially, stop engaging in previously enjoyed recreational or social activities, and become secretive. Malnutrition, weight fluctuations, and irregular sleep patterns may be observed in someone battling a ketamine addiction. Absences at school or work may add up, and production in these arenas may decline. Normal obligations may go unattended, and risky behaviors may increase.
Hazards of Ketamine Abuse
Ketamine impairs a person’s judgment and decision-making abilities, and disrupts memory and learning functions. Those intoxicated on ketamine may get themselves into potential hazardous situations or be prone to accidents or injuries.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) publishes that in 2011, there were 1,550 visits to emergency departments within the United States that involved a negative reaction to recreational ketamine use. Excessive amounts of ketamine, or ketamine mixed with other drugs or alcohol, may cause a toxic overdose. Ketamine overdose occurs when respiration levels drop to dangerous levels and the individual likely loses consciousness. An overdose is potentially fatal, and medical treatment should be obtained immediately if one is suspected.
A study published by Reuters indicates that regular use of ketamine may damage a person’s verbal, visual, and short-term memory functions. Fortunately, with abstinence from ketamine, these effects seem to be mostly reversible. Ketamine use may also produce “flashbacks” of the ketamine trip days, weeks, or even months after using the drug.
NIDA reports that chronic ketamine abuse can also lead to ulcers, stomach pain, depression, and kidney problems. Individuals who inject ketamine may be at risk for developing an infectious disease, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS, as these diseases are regularly passed via dirty needles, or contracted through risky and unsafe sexual practices.
Abuse and Addiction Treatment Programs
There are no specific medications for the treatment of ketamine addiction; however, pharmaceutical tools may be helpful during treatment to manage symptoms like depression or gastrointestinal upset. Detox for ketamine largely includes supportive care. Medical detox may be ideal for individuals at risk for cardiovascular or respiratory complications that may arise from excessive amounts of ketamine. Medical detox can provide medical monitoring to ensure the safety of the individual, especially if polydrug abuse is present.
Addiction is typically treated with a combination of therapeutic and supportive methods. Holistic, or complementary, forms of medicine may be helpful during treatment as well. Nutrition planning, mindfulness meditation, yoga, chiropractic care, acupuncture, music or art therapy, fitness plans, and massage therapy may all aid the healing process.
As addiction is a highly individual and personal disease, trained professionals at a substance abuse treatment facility may first perform a set of evaluations or assessments to determine the optimal course of action. As treatment progresses, needs may change, and the level of care may be altered as well. Regardless of individual circumstances, recovery is well within reach with the support and care of a comprehensive and tailored treatment program.