Ketamine, sometimes referred to as Ketalar, is a prescription drug that was released in 1970 for use as a surgical general anesthetic. Since then, ketamine has continued to be widely used in the field of hospital or veterinary anesthesiology, and has been researched for medical use in multiple other areas, such as ongoing palliative care or pain management, and as an emerging possible treatment for depression. Still, the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) explains that ketamine is most often utilized by the medical community when a short-lived anesthetic is needed, typically in cases where an individual is having a short surgery and does not need to be “put under” into a deeper state, or for a long period of time.
By the late 1970s, ketamine had made its way out of the operating theater and had spread into recreational drug markets, where it was being introduced in the form of tablets, in crushed powders, or in liquids that could be injected intravenously or intramuscularly, taken orally, or smoked, often combined with marijuana. Throughout the ‘80s, ketamine became a popular feature in the emerging dance scene and “raves,” and today, ketamine has continued to be a popular substance in clubs.
Get Smart About Drugs, an educational resource published by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) advises that the drug is known on the street and in schools by the street names “special K,” “kit kat,” and “vitamin K.” CESAR says that tolerance and dependency develop quickly, and the effects that users once experienced, such as hallucinations and a feeling of being in a dream-like state, begin to dim. Like so many other drugs, users may aim for the effects they first felt during the initial early uses of ketamine by increasing use and bingeing. These binges lead to using larger and larger amounts of the drug. Dependency may form quickly and dangerously.
Once a habit has developed, users may need to seek professional help in order to break free of its effects. Ketamine can have significant consequences, as it has an extensive list of serious effects on the body and can lead to risky social behaviors or even criminal scenarios. In fact, the DEA notes that while ketamine is socially popular in dance clubs because of its dissociative and hallucinogenic effects, these same sedative effects have made ketamine an increasingly popular “date rape” drug.
For those who want to stop using ketamine, or for those who are worried about a friend or family member who is using this drug, there are ways to get help. Below is some information about who may be abusing ketamine, what overdose can mean, and what the treatment may look like in order to recover.
Who Abuses Ketamine?
Today, ketamine has a useful and legitimate use within the field of anesthesiology. For those who are administered the drug as part of a controlled medical procedure or as part of their supervised medical plan, abuse is not likely. Prescriptions for the drug are still quite uncommon, as even with possible uses, such as treatment for depression or pain management, there is not a comprehensive body of evidence or sufficient medical research to prescribe ketamine on a widespread basis.
Still, ketamine can be found on the illegal market, usually sourced through unlawful or forged prescriptions. The DEA points out that users are often children or teenagers who are introduced to ketamine while in clubs, at parties, or at school. Of course, while use of hallucinogenic drugs is a noted problem for young people at raves or parties, anyone of any age who uses ketamine and begins to yearn for its dissociative effects can rapidly develop a dependency. Indeed, using ketamine without medical supervision on a habitual basis can create strong cravings and addiction. And, because it is short-acting in most street forms, users may find themselves beginning to dose their bodies more frequently, with higher amounts, to achieve the out-of-body experience they are craving.
Signs of Addiction and the Effects of Abuse
Narconon explains that because ketamine has a profound, and near-immediate, effect on a user, it may not be hard to spot its use. But because the drug is still most commonly used at clubs and parties, or in other social situations, it is possible that use may go unnoticed by family members or others in the home. Behaviors that may indicate use, as with so many other drugs, include secretiveness, paranoia, and appearing guilty. Some specific physical signs of ketamine use include the presence of dilated pupils, hallucinations, a mellow demeanor, dissociation from the body, slowed breathing, or delirium.
According to DrugInfo, the effects of ketamine addiction and abuse can vary depending on multiple factors, such as the user’s body size, the amount of the drug ingested, which other drugs are being taken at the same time, and overall tolerance level.
Some typical short-term effects of abuse that may occur include:
- Feelings of detachment from the body
- Anxiety and panic
- Slurred speech and vision
Longer-term effects can include:
- Personality changes
- Abdominal pain
- Poor concentration levels
- Sociological effects such as financial, legal, employment, and social problems
Drugs.com notes that, in rarer cases, serious side effects of ketamine use can include seizures, muscle rigidity, coma, and even death from overdoes.
Treatment for Ketamine Abuse
Ketamine’s altering and cognitive effects may make it difficult for someone to make the decision to quit using and to take steps to seek help. Often, a strong tolerance to ketamine means that the amount of the drug being taken has increased to the point where professional treatment is the best option for quitting. Breaking free and healing from drug use is not easy, but it can be achieved in a variety of ways. If necessary, medical detox can provide a safe start to treatment. Drugs.com explains that there are many withdrawal symptoms that someone quitting long-term or chronic use of the drug may experience, such as chills, sweats, hallucinations, and strong cravings for the drug.
Strategies can be learned in focused and specialized treatment that employ a range of options such as:
- Expressive arts therapy
- Recreation therapy
- Psychoeducational groups
- Wellness-focused groups
For those worried they have a problem and are struggling with their drug use, or for family members who suspect a loved one is using ketamine recreationally, there is a range of effective inpatient and outpatient treatment options available. A positive treatment path likely includes individual or group therapy with professional leaders who can guide recovery, and teach the person, and those around them, new tools to resist relapse and live in recovery.
The DEA says that getting help, either for oneself or for a family member, begins with recognizing there is a problem, and by understanding that drug use and abuse are often very difficult to stop on one’s own. A ketamine habit can be overcome by beginning to replace it with positive solutions. A professional treatment program arms those who seek help with ways to break free from drug use and supports them by providing a caring environment, help with emotional and physical stability, and connections to other people with similar experiences. Programs can also build a plan for how to cope with temptations and old patterns, making recovery and freedom from dependency a real possibility and bridging the way to a healthier future.