Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug used by doctors for pain relief, sedation, and anesthesia for animals and humans alike. Initially, ketamine was used in veterinary medicine; however, in the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it as an anesthetic for humans, with it predominantly being used to treat injured soldiers during the Vietnam War at the time.
Since then, ketamine has become incredibly popular as a recreational drug, providing powerful dissociative, hallucinogenic, and psychedelic effects. These sensations may seem enjoyable or appealing to some, but taking too much ketamine can also cause memory loss, panic attacks, anxiety, and even psychosis.
Ketamine has been named an essential medication by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to its benefits as a pain reliever and anesthetic. It’s particularly useful as an anesthetic because, unlike other anesthetics, ketamine doesn’t slow down breathing, cause respiratory depression, reduce heart rate, or decrease blood pressure.
Ketamine is also a Schedule III controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which means it is not as tightly regulated as most opioids. Medicinal doses of ketamine are generally around one to two milligrams per kilogram of body weight. The FDA reports that a person only needs 10% to 25% of this amount to feel a ketamine high.
Ketamine is also a prescription drug dispensed under the brand name Ketalar. Available in 10, 50, and 100 milligrams per milliliter injectable formats, medical professionals use it as a single dose during surgical procedures.
Ketamine abuse refers to any non-medical use of the drug, leading to harmful social, physical, or psychological consequences. People who abuse ketamine have the potential to develop a tolerance to the drug, which can lead to an addiction. However, ketamine addiction rates are lower than drugs such as opioids or benzodiazepines.
Often called ket, special K, vitamin K, or K, ketamine is frequently used as a party drug or club drug. As ketamine comes in many forms, it can be abused in numerous ways. For example, the powder is most commonly snorted, and it’s also sometimes added to drinks and ingested. It may also be inserted into the rectum or injected into a muscle, or even directly into a vein.
Ketamine starts working quickly, with effects felt from one to 30 minutes after consumption. The length of time it takes to feel the effects of ketamine depends on how it is consumed. When taken orally, users can expect to feel the effects anywhere between five to 30 minutes later. Snorting ketamine can produce effects in five to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, injecting ketamine produces effects within as little as 30 seconds.
Though most of the side effects associated with ketamine alleviate within one to two hours, factors such as metabolism and size influence the time it takes to enter the blood and ultimately ascertain how long the effects are felt.
Low doses of ketamine are likely to cause distortions of time and space, hallucinations, and mild dissociation. Yet, when a high dose is taken, users can experience severe dissociation, known by recreational users as a ‘K-hole.’
When a ‘K-hole’ is experienced, users feel entirely removed from reality and their bodies, resulting in out-of-body or near-death experiences. Additionally, many people often describe being in another reality and communicating with aliens or higher powers when severe dissociation occurs.
Unfortunately, ketamine is also used as a date rape drug. Powder ketamine can easily dissolve in liquid without altering the taste, which quickly produces physically paralyzing effects under a heavy dose.
Knowing the effects of ketamine consumption and ketamine overdose symptoms may help in seeking prompt intervention if you suspect a person may have been spiked.
Ketamine abuse can result in a range of dangerous consequences, including mental and physical health problems and the development of a substance use disorder.
The effects of ketamine are not the same for everyone, though. Body mass, age, underlying medical or mental health conditions, and other biological factors affect the side effects a person may experience and to what intensity.
Ketamine users quickly build a tolerance to the drug, requiring high doses to feel the same effects. In turn, taking ketamine can cause physical effects such as:
Ketamine can also cause long-term psychological problems such as:
As with other drugs, it’s possible to overdose on ketamine. Although ketamine is not as likely to inhibit breathing as other anesthetics and central nervous system depressants, difficulty breathing is a common sign of ketamine overdose.
Other symptoms of ketamine overdose include:
Although death from ketamine overdose alone is rare, recognizing the early signs of ketamine overdose increases the chance of prompt medical intervention and could help save a person’s life.
Should you find yourself worrying that a friend or loved one has overdosed on ketamine, it’s normal to feel unsure of what to do. Unfortunately, a person is more likely to sustain a severe injury due to one of the symptoms of ketamine overdose, so the first thing you should do is call 911 and request emergency medical care. It would be best to stay with them until medical assistance arrives.
It may also be beneficial to find out how much ketamine they have consumed so that you inform medical professionals. It’s also wise to let professionals know if they have taken any other substances.
While waiting for medical help to arrive, place the person on their side to stop them from choking on vomit if it is safe to do so.
Following a ketamine overdose, treatment is necessary. The best kind of treatment depends on several factors, including how and why the person overdosed. For example, they may have been spiked and not intended to take the drug, they may not have known the potency of the drug they were taking, or they may have taken too much ketamine as a result of increased tolerance.
The treatment required will also depend on whether ketamine was mixed with another substance. It’s common for ketamine to be mixed with alcohol or other drugs, which can increase the strength of the effects of all substances taken and significantly increase the risk of a dangerous overdose. 71.5% of ketamine-related emergency department visits also involved alcohol.
Whatever the case, there are many suitable treatment options available. A ketamine overdose can generally be controlled and safely managed with immediate medical care. Medical professionals will monitor cardiovascular and circulatory systems along with other vital signs. They may also offer medication to calm the person.
At present, there are no medications approved by the FDA to treat a ketamine overdose; however, medications such as benzodiazepines can relieve agitation and manage psychosis.
Regular and continuous use of ketamine may result in physical dependence. In this case, a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking the drug. As a result, anyone with ketamine dependence or addiction will need to go through a detoxification process. Here, all traces of ketamine leave the body.
During detox, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, and fatigue may be experienced. When detox is complete, many people complete additional treatment, such as inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. Inpatient options offer comprehensive care that includes therapy and support groups to help people create daily practices such as mindfulness and exercise that contribute to long-term recovery. Meanwhile, outpatient options offer flexible treatment that doesn’t interrupt daily life.
Following overdose treatment, additional medical care may be needed. As ketamine abuse can cause chronic urinary tract infections and even lower urinary tract destruction, if a person experiences pain urinating or mid-back pain after a ketamine overdose, they may be referred for further evaluation from a urologist.
If a person has suffered a ketamine overdose as a result of being drugged or spiked in an attempt at sexual assault, they may wish to begin a talking therapy such as trauma therapy or counseling.
If you or someone you know uses ketamine and requires treatment, contact us today to ask about our substance abuse treatment options.
Seeking addiction treatment can be overwhelming, but we have a range of holistic treatment options available to suit each person’s needs and support them on the journey to sobriety.
Contact our team to find out how we can help you