What is Ketamine?
Ketamine built up its reputation as a club drug in the 1980s, and its abuse still runs rampant. Known as a dissociative anesthetic, the drug gives people the feeling of being disconnected to themselves and reality. With a wide array of nicknames and an equally wide range of side effects, ketamine has posed numerous dangers over the years and continues to be a threat to those who abuse it, according to the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research and the U.S. Department of Justice.
What It Does
Depending on how much ketamine someone takes, the results of the drug can vary. Low doses can give someone an intense high that comes with the feeling of floating or being disassociated with anything around them. They may also become overly stimulated and begin to hallucinate.
High doses of the drug often induce what is called a “K-hole,” which is a sort of near-death experience where users are nearly fully sedated and feel as if they are wholly outside of their bodies. Additional effects of a high ketamine dose can include slurred speech, vomiting and nausea, muscle twitching, dizziness and an extremely slow breathing rate.
An overdose can result in even slower breathing rates, unconsciousness and possibly death.
Due to the dizziness and confusion ketamine users can experience, they are often at risk for other hazardous indirectly related to the use of the drug. These include car crashes, accidents, drowning risk and date rape or other assaults where the victim may not even be aware of being victimized.
Additional Side Effects
Additional side effects can occur in those who take any amount of ketamine. These side effects include:
- Rigid muscles
- Violent or aggressive behavior
- Feelings of being invulnerable
- Extremely rapid heart rate
- Loss of coordination
- Depressed motor functioning
- Disorientation and delirium
Other cases have resulting in the ketamine user becoming completely unresponsive to any outside stimulation. People may enter a kind of suspended state during which the body produces rapid eye movement, muscle stiffness and dilated pupils. People may also experience salivation or watery eyes, even though they are not outwardly responding to anything to which they are subjected.
Drugs with Similar Effects
The DOJ reports ketamine has been touted of being similar to yet preferable to LSD or PCP. The preference comes from the length of a ketamine trip, which can last 30 minutes to one hour instead of the extended LSD or PCP trip that can stretch out for several hours.
Drugs that easily lead to dependence share traits with ketamine, the most notable being the rapidity and fury with which that dependence can take place. Like alcohol, opiates, cannabis and stimulants, ketamine can quickly hook the user, who just as quickly may build up a tolerance for the drug. Binging behavior is common, with users often indulging in repeated ketamine use over a limited period of time.
Ketamine also shares similarities with depressants like Rohypnol and GHB, known for their ability to sedate and cloud the memories of the users. This category of drugs makes users prime victims for date rape and other crimes.
What It’s Called
Ketamine has a colorful array of slang names that include:
- Special K
- Vitamin K
- Super K
- Super Acid
- Special LA Coke
- Jet and Jet K
- Kit Kat
- Cat Tranquilizer
- Cat Valium
Who Uses It
Illicit use of ketamine is typically linked to nightclubs and raves, although its intended use is for humans and animals in need of a quick-acting anesthetic. Abuse of the drug first began on the West Coast in the 1970s, not long after ketamine’s introduction in 1962.
The drug has been particularly attractive to subcultures that include New Age spiritualists and hippies, although its reach and abuse has continued to extend to a variety of people of all different backgrounds. CESAR reports on 2002 statistics that say 3 percent of 12th graders across the U.S. had used ketamine at least once within the past 12 months.
How It’s Used
Ketamine is usually made to be sold in liquid form, although illicit distributors can evaporate the liquid portion to end up with a ketamine powder. The powder can then be snorted up the nose or pressed to form a pill, which can be taken orally. Injecting the liquid form is another possibility, although pills are generally more convenient and easier to distribute. The powder form of ketamine can also be rolled into tobacco or marijuana cigarettes while the liquid form can be mixed or slipped into a drink.
The time it takes to hit the bloodstream varies on the route:
- 1 to 3 minutes – time it takes to hit the bloodstream by injection
- 2 to 5 minutes – time it takes to hit the bloodstream by snorting
- 5 to 30 minutes – time it takes to hit the bloodstream when taken orally
The time ketamine remains in the system:
- 1 hour – time hallucinations usually last after drug’s effects kick in
- 24 hours – time the drug can affect judgment, coordination and sensory perceptions
Its Intended Use
Ketamine is legal for use in the U.S., although under strict regulations. The federal government first approved the use of the drug in animals and human in the 1970s, then tightened the controls on the substance by the 1990s. Animals undergoing veterinary procedures and people with extremely painful and severe wounds may benefit from the legal use of the drug, and those seeking to use the drug illegally may raid vet clinics or pharmacies to obtain their supply.
Recognizing Ketamine Abuse
People abusing ketamine may exhibit symptoms associated with the particular drug as well as a host of other behaviors and symptoms common to drug abuse and addiction, Mayo Clinic says. In addition to the effects noted earlier, signs of ketamine abuse in a loved one can include:
- Extreme euphoria
- Heightened sensory perceptions
- Decrease in inhibitions
- Poor judgment
- Poor coordination
- Memory problems
Signs of drug abuse or addiction can also include:
- The feeling of needing the drug to socialize, perform certain tasks or deal with problems
- Stashing, hoarding or hiding a supply of ketamine
- Stealing or money issues stemming from the constant cost of the drug
- A sense of malaise or disinterest in things that used to be enjoyable
- Missing school, work, calling in sick
- Failing to meet responsibilities
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Changes in relationships that used to intimate or solid
- Failing to bathe or otherwise becoming neglectful of appearance
- Extreme isolation or sudden, inexplicable need for extreme privacy
Getting Help for Ketamine Abuse
It’s not only the individual who suffers from his or her ketamine abuse. Drug addiction and abuse can affect the lives of friends and family members. Getting help may mean staging an intervention or at least planting the seed that help is available through a number of effective programs.
The most effective drug addiction treatment programs generally address not only ketamine abuse but the underlying reasons a person has reached for the drug in the first place. Many programs are available, with plans that offer a wide range of individualized options to fit individual needs.