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Article Summary

A Guide To Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine abuse has been rampant for several years now. Studies conducted during this time estimate that the drug causes a variety of effects on affected demographics. For instance, the USNSDUH (the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health) estimates that over 200,000 Americans used the drug actively 2013. Further, the study found that close to 2.3 million people above the age of 12 had used it in the past.

Made in the 60s, ketamine was designed as a fast acting anesthetic. However, it was only in the 1970s that this drug was approved for human use. It was later sold as Ketalar, its popular brand name, and quickly became the drug of choice because it acts so rapidly. Before long, people started abusing it and distributing it illegally on the street.

Today, ketamine is a club drug known for its various dissociative and hallucinogenic properties. While it is a controlled substance, doctors still prescribe it as a dissociative anesthetic.

Read on to learn more about ketamine, its uses, effects, addiction, abuse, and more:

Understanding Ketamine

A tranquilizing drug, ketamine is commonly used by vets preparing pets and other animals for surgery. It is also marketed as a human-consumable anesthetic, although this form of use is less common.

This substance is available both as a powder and as a liquid. Many abusers inject, consume, or add the liquid form to other materials before smoking the concoction. Others dissolve the powder before injecting it.

Apart from being abused by those looking to get high, ketamine is also popularly used to facilitate date rape and sexual assault in clubs and parties. This is why it has earned the "date rape drug" moniker.

On the street, it is commonly referred to as K, Special K, Cat Valium, Kit-Kat, green, Vitamin K, and jet. Here, the drug is widely available in its liquid, powder, and pill formats.

Overall, ketamine is a dissociative drug, hallucinogen, and club drug. As such, it is closely linked to other dissociative hallucinogens such as laughing gas (nitrous oxide) and PCP.

Ketamine Uses

When taken recreationally, ketamine can induce pleasant euphoric feelings, a sense of relaxations, and out-of-body experiences where users feel blissfully delinked from reality. As a direct result, the drug is a popular club or date rape drug because the state of unawareness it creates lasts for a hour or more (the duration will depend on the dosage).

When you take the drug, it will start working based on the method of intake. Consider the following:

  1. Orally

    When ingested orally, ketamine can take anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes to start working.

  2. Snorting

    On the other hand, users who snort the crushed pills or the powder form of the drug will experience its effects in 5 to 15 minutes. In this case, the drug is used in bumps where abusers take small amounts back-to-back to achieve the desired effects.

  3. Intramuscularly (IM)

    IM ingested ketamine will start working in as little as 1 to 5 minutes.

  4. Intravenously (IV)

    This is relatively rare because it is a highly dangerous method of use. It is, however, quite useful because the drug may start working in about 30 seconds. That said, IV use ensures that the abuser gets overly sedated even before they remove the needle from their body.

Whatever the mode of use, ketamine is dangerous because it will affect the brain's glutamate receptors. The drug will also distort your perceptions of sound and sight and you may feel detached from your body and environment (which is the primary reason why doctors might use it during surgery).

A small dose, however, may only result in intoxication. Still, this effect can affect your memory, attention, and learning ability. Higher doses, on the other hand, are likely to cause hallucination and a dreamlike state as well as amnesia and delirium. These higher doses will increase your risk of respiratory failure and high blood pressure.

Ketamine Effects

Abusing ketamine may lead to a broad range of emotions and experiences, from the intense hallucinogenic out of body experiences to mild floating sensations. Due to these effects, the substance is quite popular as a club drug where people abuse it during all-night raves and dance parties, as well as in clubs.

Other effects of abusing the drug include:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Blurred visions
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired motor function
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Paralysis
  • Poor reflexes
  • Reality distortion
  • Sedation

If you take it in large doses, ketamine might prove fatal - particularly when mixed with depressants such as alcohol and marijuana. Other serious effects arising from abusing the drug include:

  1. Respiratory failure

    You might not be able to clear your airways, resulting in aspiration.

  2. Organ or Brain Damage

    When used continuously over the long term, ketamine often leads to irreparable organ or brain damage.

  3. Ketamine Bladder Syndrome

    This refers to the long-term damage of the urinary tract and bladder arising from extensive drug abuse.

  4. Trauma

    Last but not least, you might experience severe trauma because ketamine is likely to make you numb to pain. If you get injured, you might not know it.

Ketamine Side Effects

Using ketamine also leads to several side effects. These dangers are further compounded when you mix this drug with marijuana and alcohol. In many instances, the adverse side effects may far outweigh any positive effects the drug causes especially if you abuse it over the long term.

Consider the following side effects:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Blurry vision
  • Bradycardia
  • Breathing problems
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Distortions of reality
  • Double vision
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypotension
  • Impaired motor function
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Morbilliform rash
  • Muscle contractions resembling seizure
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Nystagmus
  • Paralysis
  • Poor reflexes
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Sedation
  • Severe anxiety
  • Transient Erythema
  • Vomiting

Ketamine Addictive Qualities

If you use ketamine as prescribed by a doctor, you might not become addicted to it. This is mostly because doctors hardly ever administer the drug in more than one dose.

However, since it is an illegal street drug, habitual users might become tolerant to it and develop physical dependence. As a direct result, you may get cravings for ketamine and start binging on it in the same way that amphetamine and cocaine addicts do.

In many cases, people snort the powder form of ketamine, inject the liquid substance directly into the bloodstream, or ingest the pills. According to recent research, long term use will cause resistance and tolerance. After some time, you are likely to start taking higher doses to be able to achieve similar effects.

In the process, you will harm your body. At some point, you may even stop experiencing the effects of the drugs as your corresponding dependence, and addiction develops and evolves.

Although addiction to ketamine isn't hard to break, there is still a potentially high risk. Therefore, if you try to stop using the drug, you might experience severe psychological and physiological withdrawal symptoms.

Ketamine Overdose

When you overdose on ketamine, your respiratory levels may be disrupted negatively. This will have the compounded effect of making it difficult for you to breathe. Other symptoms of an overdose include but are not limited to:

  • Agitation
  • Brain-body dissociation
  • Chest pain
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Extreme sedation
  • Fatigue
  • Floating sensation
  • Hearing disturbances
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Inability to sense your environment
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Paralysis
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion
  • Slowed breathing
  • Terrors, potentially arising from heightened hallucinations
  • Violence
  • Visual disturbances
  • Vomiting

Overdosing on this drug can also prove fatal even though death resulting from poisoning is relatively rare. However, since paralysis is a potential side effect arising from ketamine abuse, if you start vomiting you may choke on your vomit. Injuries and accidents have also been linked to the dissociative implications of an overdose, and they may result in life-threatening consequences and injuries.

Since some abusers mix ketamine with alcohol and other substances, this might increase the risk of an overdose. A recent study in the Emerging Health Threats journal shows that 89% of the study participants seeking overdose treatment also had alcohol or another drug in their system.

This is also the case for those who mix the drug with other mind-altering substances, a situation in which ketamine will increase the risk factors and up the odds of suffering a fatal overdose.

Ketamine Withdrawal

Those who abuse ketamine for an extended period can experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. Since the addiction is psychological, most of these symptoms also affect the brain, including emotional imbalance, depression, and paranoia.

The withdrawal symptoms tend to last anywhere between 4 and 6 days and start 24 to 72 hours after your last dose. They may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Double vision
  • Fatigue
  • Hearing loss
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Nightmares
  • Rapid breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Although most of these withdrawal symptoms are merely uncomfortable, your doctor might not recommend that you take the taper-down approach to quitting. However, most detoxification programs use the cold turkey method but only in a setting that is medically supervised because some of the symptoms are quite unpredictable. If you experience severe withdrawal, the doctors may use other medications to alleviate your condition.

Ketamine Dangers

Most users mistakenly assume that ketamine isn't quite addictive. This is because it is a psychedelic, a class of drugs that tend to be a bit less habit-forming than most of the other commonly-abused substances.

However, several dangers are now linked to ketamine use, abuse, dependence, and addiction. Using the drug, therefore, might cause habitual behavior related to drug craving and drug seeking once your dose runs out.

The substance may also lead to increased heart beat, respiratory failure, coma, inability to function, as well as inability to understand your surroundings. As your addiction becomes more pronounced, you are likely to resort to higher doses to experience the same high you used to enjoy. In this situation, your risk of an overdose is heightened with the potential for deadly consequences.

Since ketamine is a controlled substance (Schedule III according to the DEA), it is illegal to use this drug recreationally. Doing so puts you at risk of a variety of dangers. These include disorientation, respiratory distress, hallucinations, psychotic episodes, impaired cognitive function, high blood pressure, elevated heart rated, and impaired judgment and motor functions.

Many addicts also experience bladder damage, with 25% reporting pain whenever they try to empty their bladder with the urine containing particles of blood. This condition is not referred to as ket cramps, and it relates to the pain experienced by ketamine users while urinating.

Last but not least, impaired cognitive function, kidney damage, and brain damage arising from abusing the drug may be permanent. In the same way, the increased heart rate and respiratory failure caused by ketamine can also result in sudden death.

Signs And Symptoms Of Ketamine Abuse

The signs and symptoms of abusing this substance are quite pronounced. This makes them hard to miss. As a direct result, most abusers will take the drug out of sight or in isolation.

However, as you become addicted to the drug, your abuse can be easy to spot. This is because most of the effects it causes are quite intense. Consider the following signs and symptoms of use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction to ketamine:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • Agitation
  • Bladder pain
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Incontinence
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Involuntary muscle movements
  • Loss of coordination
  • Skin redness
  • Reduced ability to experience physical pain
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slurred speech
2. Psychological Symptoms
  • Amnesia
  • Changes in the perceptions of sound and color
  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Difficulty learning
  • Dissociation from identity, environment, and body
  • Lack of motivation
  • Frequent distraction
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Unusual mellowness
3. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Becoming obsessed with ketamine and the next hit
  • Building up tolerance and requiring more of the drug to experience its effects
  • Desire to reduce use
  • Failing to meet obligations and responsibilities at home, school, or work
  • Inability to control your use
  • Increasing the intake of the drug
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Neglecting family and friends
  • Problems with relationships
  • Spending excessive energy, time, and money to procure the drug
  • Stealing or borrowing money to get ketamine

Treatment For Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine addiction treatment usually requires a concerted effort between health care professionals, doctors, patients, and the patient's loved ones. In an ideal setting, the patient will be assisted in tapering down from abusing the drug. This might be through inpatient or outpatient treatment.

The best solution to addiction is to get help as soon as you can. Once you do, the doctors might use the following techniques and therapies:

  • 12-Step education
  • Anger management
  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Medication management
  • Neurofeedback
  • Recreation therapy
  • Relapse-prevention instruction

The earlier you get help, the easier it will be for you to escape the various adverse effects of long term ketamine addiction. Get started today and enjoy your road to recovery.

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