What Is Ketamine?
Ketamine is an anesthetic that is used for both humans and animals, particularly in emergency or trauma situations. But it is often abused for its dissociative effects, such as auditory and visual distortions. Those who abuse ketamine usually snort it, but it can also be injected.1
Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug approved for use in animal and human surgery. The drug’s therapeutic purpose is to induce unconsciousness, numbness, and memory loss while maintaining adequate blood pressure and respiratory reflexes. 2
People began to use ketamine recreationally in the late 1960s, and it is now classified as a Schedule III controlled substance, which means that it has the potential for abuse and dependence. 2,3
People tend to abuse ketamine for the dissociative effects, which are characterized by floating and dream-like sensations at low doses and hallucinations and near-death or spiritual experiences at high doses. 1
Ketamine is often used in a binge pattern to maintain the high over an extended period of time, which can cause tolerance to build quickly. 1 Users also frequently combine it with other drugs.
The street names for ketamine vary depending on the time period and location. Some of the most common street names for ketamine include: 1,2
- Special K.
- Cat Valium.
- Super acid.
Methods of Use
In recent years, ketamine has become a popular drug of abuse in club and rave settings. It is often abused in conjunction with other drugs. 2 Ketamine users tend to abuse the drug with other “club drugs,” stimulants, or alcohol. 2 This is known as polydrug use – a practice that can have disastrous physical and mental health consequences.
Users typically snort ketamine, but it can be injected or taken orally as well. 1,2 Tablets don’t usually consist of pure ketamine, however. They often contain other substances, such as heroin, amphetamine, cocaine, and caffeine, which can compound the potential for serious adverse effects. 2
Ketamine has a number of desired and adverse effects on the mind and body, some of which can be dangerous.
The short-term or immediate effects of ketamine use are: 4
- Changes in perception of sound, time, surroundings, and body.
- Feelings of invulnerability.
- Reduced awareness of environment.
- Dream-like state.
- Increased distractibility.
- Impaired thinking.
- Out-of-body experiences.
- Reduced pain perception. 2
The “K-hole” is a hallucinogenic state associated with high doses of ketamine. It is often described as a frightening or near-death experience, though it can be spiritual. 1,2
Side effects are undesired, secondary effects that can be harmful or dangerous. Side effects of ketamine abuse include: 4
- Psychotic symptoms, including paranoia and delusions.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
- Heart palpitations.
- Chest pain.
- Increased salivation.
- Slurred speech.
- Coordination problems.
- Cataplexy (physical collapse due to intense emotions).
- Dystonia (involuntary muscle spasms or contractions, which can be painful). 6
- Rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue, which can result in kidney failure or shock). 5
Research on the long-term consequences of ketamine abuse is limited. However, preliminary findings point to the following potential effects of chronic use:
- Impaired memory and cognition. 1
- Diminished executive functioning: 2 includes higher-level skills such as problem-solving, attention, planning, abstract thinking, self-control, decision-making, emotional regulation, and moral reasoning. 7
- Impaired psychological wellbeing. 2
- Delusional thinking, even after abstinence. 2
- Depressive and dissociative symptoms. 2
- Visual disturbances or problems. 2
- White matter degeneration in the brain. 2
- Psychological dependence. 2
- Painful urination. 2
- Stomach pain, commonly referred to as “K-cramps.” 2
- Occupational problems or losing a job.
- Academic suspensions or expulsion.
- Relationship difficulties.
- Financial hardships.
- Abandonment of previously enjoyed hobbies.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
If you or someone you know is abusing ketamine or another drug, call 1-888-319-2606
Helpline Information to learn more about addiction treatment programs near you.
A ketamine addiction (diagnosed as ketamine use disorder) is defined as a maladaptive pattern of ketamine use that causes distress in the individual’s life. The signs and symptoms include: 8
- Ketamine is taken in amounts that exceed or for lengths of time greater than originally intended.
- Inability to quit or cut back on ketamine use.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time getting and using ketamine, as well as recovering from its adverse effects.
- Strong cravings to use ketamine.
- Persistent ketamine use resulting in home, work, or school ramifications.
- Continuous ketamine use regardless of interpersonal or social difficulties exacerbated or caused by the drug.
- Reduced involvement in occupational, social, or recreational activities.
- Repeated ketamine use in dangerous situations, such as driving a car.
- Continued ketamine use in spite of mental and physical problems worsened or caused by the substance.
- Tolerance: more ketamine is needed to “get high” and the same amount of ketamine elicits a diminished effect or intoxication.
An individual must exhibit at least 2 of the above symptoms within a 1-year period to be diagnosed with an addiction to ketamine. 8
Overdose often occurs when ketamine is combined with other drugs.
Overdose on ketamine alone is rare. Often, overdose occurs when ketamine is combined with other drugs, such as opioids, cocaine, alcohol, or amphetamines. 2
Signs and symptoms of an overdose include: 9
- Respiratory depression.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Heart palpitations.
- Chest pain.
- Slurred speech.
- Jaw muscle spasms.
- Dilated pupils.
- Respiratory arrest.
- Polyneuropathy (diffusely impaired nervous tissue functioning).
If you suspect you or someone you know has overdosed on ketamine, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room immediately.
Ketamine abuse has increased considerably and become more widespread over the past 20 years. 2
In 2013: 10
- More than 2 million people 26 years and older reported trying ketamine.
- Nearly 540,000 people between 18 and 25 years of age reported ketamine use.
- More than 40,000 people between 12 and 17 years of age reported using ketamine.
- 7 million men and 1 million women reported trying ketamine.
- 4% of high school seniors reported ketamine use in 2015. 11
- More than 1,500 emergency department visits involved ketamine in 2011. 12
- Alcohol was involved in 72% of ketamine-related emergency department visits in 2011. 12
Find Treatment for Ketamine Addiction
. Maxwell, J. C. (2015). Implications of Research for Treatment: Ketamine. The Center for Excellence in Drug Epidemiology, 1-4.
. Kalsi, S. S., Wood, D. M., & Dargan, P. I. (2011). The epidemiology and patterns of acute and chronic toxicity associated with recreational ketamine use. Emerging Health Threats Journal, 4(0). doi:10.3402/ehtj.v4i0.7107
. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Scheduling.
. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drugs and Human Performance FACT SHEETS – Ketamine.
. Rhabdomyolysis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2015).
. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2012). Dystonias Fact Sheet.
. University of California, San Francisco. (2016). Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).
. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
. National Library of Medicine: Toxnet. (2009). KETAMINE.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4760, DAWN Series D-39. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.