What You Need to Know About Ketamine and Addiction

What You Need to Know About Ketamine and Addiction

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a medication that is used as an anesthetic for both humans and animals. An anesthetic is a type of drug that blocks all feelings of pain or other sensations and puts you into a deep state of unconsciousness, usually in order to perform medical or surgical procedures. Ketamine can also make you feel detached from your body and surroundings, frequently described as “floating outside of yourself.”

While ketamine is often used as an anesthetic, it can also relieve pain and produce relaxation at lower doses. It is considered safe as an anesthetic because it does not reduce blood pressure or lower breathing rates when given at the proper dose. It is also very useful in less developed countries and in disaster zones (e.g. war), as it does not require an electrical supply, oxygen, or specially trained staff to be used medically.

History of Ketamine

1962

Creation

Ketamine was created in 1962 by American scientist Calvin Stevens at the Parke Davis Research Laboratories (now owned by well-known pharmaceutical company Pfizer) in Detroit, Michigan. It was initially promoted and marketed as a fast-acting anesthetic with less serious side effects than the similar anesthetic drug, phencyclidine (PCP), which can cause severe hallucinations and symptoms of psychosis.

1962
1970

FDA Approval and New Age Use

In 1970, ketamine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human use. It was used widely on the battlefield as an anesthetic during the Vietnam War and also widely adopted in veterinary use around the world. During the 1970s and 1980s, ketamine began to be experimented within various sub-cultures for mind exploration and New Age spiritualism. Due to its ability to give you an out-of-body experience, ketamine began to be used to explore one’s inner psyche and altered states of consciousness.

1970
Mid 1980’s

Becoming a ‘Party Drug’

Around the mid 1980s, ketamine started to be used recreationally and became a popular party drug associated with various dance cultures. One of the first uses of ketamine at a club actually occurred in the UK, when club goers mistakenly took a ketamine pill that they thought was ecstasy. Ketamine has also been used in party culture to enhance the effects of other drugs such as ecstasy.

Mid 1980’s
Today

Ketamine Use Today

Although the effects of ketamine are less severe than PCP, ketamine still poses a risk of abuse and can have negative side effects. For that reason, it is still not as widely used in human medicine as it is for animals. Recently however, there has been an increase in research surrounding ketamine use for depression, but it has not yet been approved by the FDA for that purpose. In less developed countries, ketamine is often the only anesthetic available and thus is used more widely for surgical procedures.

Today

Names of Ketamine

Brand Names

  • Ketalar
  • Ketanest
  • Ketaset
  • Ketaject
  • Vetalar

Street Names

  • Cat tranquilizers
  • Cat valium
  • K
  • Ket
  • KitKat
  • Purple
  • Special K
  • Super K
  • Vitamin K

What does Ketamine Look Like and How is it Taken?

Ketamine that is used for medical purposes is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless liquid that is typically injected into a muscle or into the bloodstream. This injection is given in a hospital or other clinical setting but not at home. 

When ketamine is sold illegally, it is usually converted into a white powder. It might also be found in the form of capsules, tablets, or crystals. Ketamine powder can be snorted, mixed into beverages, or dissolved back into liquid form to be injected.

Uses of Ketamine

In a medical setting, ketamine has a variety of uses. Most typically, ketamine has been used in veterinary medicine to induce anesthesia and relieve pain for animals. It is also used in the research and transportation of wildlife.

General Anesthesia

In humans, it can be used to induce general anesthesia before, during, and after surgery and is typically used for patients who don’t respond well to other anesthetics. It is also used in less developed countries and in emergency scenarios such as war zones because it is easy to store safely.

Medical Uses

In medical practice, ketamine is used in a variety of procedures including:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Skin grafts
  • Orthopedic procedures
  • Eye, ear, nose, throat diagnostic procedures
  • Minor surgeries such as dental extractions
  • Burn treatment
  • Chronic pain management
  • Cancer treatment
  • Control seizures in epilepsy patients

As you can see, Ketamine is a versatile drug that can be used for many medical uses.

Ketamine as a Treatment for Depression

One of the more recent uses of ketamine has been for treatment-resistant forms of depression and suicidal urges. Treatment-resistant forms of depression mean that a person has tried a variety of different treatments and none of them have helped with the depression.

For patients with suicidal urges and chronic depression, ketamine may be used at a controlled dose in order to lift the depression. Once the person has been lifted out of that deep feeling of despair, the root causes of the depression can be more easily addressed and managed through more traditional depression treatments such as therapy and medication. Because ketamine can result in an out-of-body experience, it has been shown to be able to change the mood and feelings of a person who has been experiencing chronic and severe depression.

Nasal Mist Depression Treatment

In recent years, there have also been studies that have looked at a more controlled long-term use of ketamine to treat depression. A nasal mist containing ketamine was developed by John Krystal, chief of psychiatry at the Yale-New Haven Hospital.

This nasal mist is administered about once a week, and in some people has been shown to ease symptoms of depression in just a few hours. This use of ketamine is still in its trial stage and has yet to be approved by the FDA for clinical use. However, it shows enormous promise for helping people with depression who don’t respond to other forms of treatment.

Concerns About Using Ketamine to Treat Depression

Of course, due to the addictive properties of ketamine, there is great hesitation around using it to treat depression. There is also a fear that once a person stops using ketamine, they may experience a strong return of depressive symptoms, putting them at a higher risk of suicide after experiencing feelings of euphoria and then feeling suddenly very depressed again.

Side Effects of Ketamine Use

Common Side Effects

Some common side effects of ketamine use include:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Double vision
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Euphoria
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Unusually warm skin
  • Sedation
  • Weight loss

Uncommon Side Effects

Some rarer but more serious side-effects include:

  • Difficulty talking
  • Abnormal movements
  • Slowed or depressed breathing
  • Severe allergic reaction (hives, difficulty breathing, swollen face, lips, tongue, throat)
  • Hypotension

Recreational Side Effects

When used recreationally and at high doses, ketamine users might feel like they’re on the verge of losing consciousness, unable to move or communicate. Users might experience an out-of-body experience known as being in the “K-hole.” Other unpleasant effects might include:

  • Bloody/cloudy pee
  • Amnesia
  • Addiction
  • Trouble peeing/needing to pee often
  • Pale/blue lips, skin or nails
  • Blurry vision
  • Chest pain, discomfort, tightness
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Hives, itching, rash
  • Delusions
  • Puffy/swollen eyelids, lips, tongue
  • Sweating
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Psychosis
  • Convulsions
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Hives, itching, rash
  • Delusions
  • Puffy/swollen eyelids, lips, tongue
  • Sweating
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Psychosis

It is advisable to call your doctor or an ambulance if experiencing these severe effects.

Can You Overdose on Ketamine?

For medical purposes and in a medical setting, it is unlikely for someone to overdose on ketamine particularly because it is used mainly for anesthetic purposes, during which a person is monitored closely. When used recreationally, the risk of overdose increases. Because ketamine can cause amnesia, you might not remember how much ketamine you took or when you took it. This can make it possible to overdose on ketamine, because ketamine causes drowsiness and can make you sedated.

It is harder to overdose on ketamine than on other illegal drugs. However, combining ketamine with other substances such as alcohol can increase the risk of overdose and can be fatal.

How Many People Use Ketamine?

You may have heard of ketamine as being used as a party drug, but it certainly isn’t as popularly known as drugs such as ecstasy, heroin, LSD, or magic mushrooms. So, you might wonder, how many people actually use ketamine recreationally?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2017 and 2018 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health give us an idea of how many people have reported using ketamine recreationally in the last few years.

In 2017, 3,463 people aged 12+ reported using ketamine recreationally during their lifetime. In 2018, this number rose slightly to 3,622. 2 In comparison to other hallucinogens such as LSD which was used by 27,339 people in 2018, the numbers for ketamine are relatively low. Of the 15.8% of people who reported using hallucinogens in 2018, only 1.3% of those people attributed their hallucinogen use to ketamine.

It is important to keep in mind that these numbers only capture those who have reported their drug use, meaning that there are likely many more people who have not reported their drug use for a variety of reasons.

What Age Group Uses Ketamine Recreationally the Most?

The SAMSHA 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 19 people between the ages of 12-17 reported using ketamine, 505 people aged 18-25 reported using ketamine, and 3,098 people over the age of 26 reported using ketamine. In comparison to many other illicit drugs, these numbers are fairly low. However, it is clear that recreational ketamine use is most popular among young adults. In the year 2000, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that people aged 12-25 accounted for 74% of emergency department visits related to ketamine use. 3

%

People 12-25 Years Old Accounted for 74% of Ketamine Emergency Department Visits

Ketamine Abuse

Along with the medical uses of ketamine, ketamine is also used widely for recreational purposes. Known as a party or club drug, ketamine gives users an out-of-body experience. The effects of ketamine are almost instant and can last for many hours, sometimes even causing hallucinations similar to LSD. In 2014, 1.4% of 12th graders said that they had used ketamine for recreational purposes .4 Unfortunately, recreational use of ketamine has increased significantly since ketamine was first introduced as a drug and it is used worldwide in party culture.

Ketamine has also been labelled as a “rape drug” because it can easily be slipped into someone’s drink and can cause a person to become unconscious. It is both criminal and unethical to drug another person and to rape them, and ketamine should never be used for this purpose.

Ketamine Addiction

Although ketamine does not lead to physical addiction, ketamine can become very psychologically addictive. Although it can be a terrifying experience for some, many users have reported feeling utter bliss and happiness when high on ketamine, which makes it very appealing. Ketamine users have been known to go on “ketamine binges” in order to try to achieve the euphoric state that they likely experienced when they first started using ketamine.

Addiction is characterized by cravings for the drug, an increasing tolerance towards the drug where more of the drug is needed to achieve the same high, and a dependence on the drug where the body learns to function with it. When an individual becomes preoccupied with ketamine and begins neglecting family, friends and responsibilities, there is a chance they are developing a ketamine addiction.

Signs of Ketamine Addiction:

Distracted/difficult concentration

Drowsiness/fatigue

Reduced ability to feel pain

Loss of coordination

Slurred speech

Flushed skin

Insomnia

Bladder pain

Overdose

If you believe you might be at risk for ketamine addiction or know somebody that is, it is advisable to call your doctor and to seek help. There are a variety of treatment options and help is always available to you. There is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed as addiction is something that many people struggle with worldwide.

Withdrawal Symptoms

When you use ketamine repeatedly for a long period of time, an addiction to the drug can develop. Having a drug addiction means that tolerance towards the drug has increased. In other words, you need more and more of the substance to achieve the same effects and feelings. Your body also becomes dependent on the drug, so if you stop using ketamine abruptly, you can experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms.

Ketamine takes approximately 14 to 18 hours to leave your system, but this time frame depends on each individual. Withdrawal symptoms typically last around 4-6 days, starting 24-72 hours after the last use.

Symptoms of withdrawal can include:

Depression

Anxiety

Rapid heartbeat

Fatigue

Lack of appetite

Insomnia

Nightmares

Restlessness

Tremors

Sweating/chills

Anger

What are Ketamine Addiction Treatment Options?

The current treatment options available for ketamine treatment include counselling options such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy.

Much like with other types of drug addiction, counseling aims to tackle the root causes of addiction and help a person to change their patterns of thinking in order to help them realize why they might be using a particular drug and if there might be healthier methods of coping available.

Ketamine addiction treatment may occur on an inpatient, outpatient, or residential basis. There are no specific medications that are used in the treatment of ketamine addiction, but other medications might be used to treat potentially co-occurring psychiatric conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Common Ketamine Misconceptions

Misconception #1: Ketamine is not Addictive

Some people believe that because ketamine is used for anesthetic purposes, it is not addictive in the same way that other drugs might be. This is false, as you can become addicted to ketamine, wanting to experience the out-of-body euphoric feeling that comes with a ketamine high.

Misconception #2: Ketamine causes Psychosis

While some people believe that ketamine causes hallucinations and psychosis, that is not necessarily true. While ketamine might cause symptoms of psychosis in people who have already experienced psychosis, it does not in itself cause psychosis. Ketamine can propel you into a dreamlike state and give you an out-of-body experience, but it is unlikely to cause psychosis to the regular user.

Misconception #3: It’s okay to mix Ketamine with Alcohol

Because ketamine is known as a club drug, many people think that it is okay to mix alcohol with ketamine. In reality, mixing the two substances together can lead to worse side effects, more extreme memory loss, sedation, and potentially overdose. In 2011, there were 1,550 recreational ketamine use-related emergency department visits, of which 71.5% also involved alcohol.

Misconception #4: Ketamine Can Enlighten You

Due to its use in spiritual practices and in the exploration of altered states of consciousness, some people believe that ketamine can help you become enlightened and give insight into the world around you. The truth is that hallucinations and the out-of-body experiences that you might feel after taking ketamine are simply a product of the mind and are not a reflection of reality.

Misconception #5: Ketamine can Cause Illegal Behavior

Despite the fact that ketamine has strong sedative properties, there seems to be a misconception that ketamine will cause you to engage in negative or illegal behavior. The truth is that ketamine makes you feel disconnected from your body, often leaving users unable to move or communicate, leaving little room for engaging in illegal activity.

Misconception #6: Ketamine is Horse Tranquilizer

Because ketamine is sometimes called horse tranquilizer on the street, some people believe that that’s what it really is. While it is true that ketamine is used for veterinary purposes and to sedate animals, it is also safe for human use in clinical settings and when administered by a health professional.

Misconception #7: Ketamine is Not Safe

Another common misconception that people have about ketamine is that it is not a safe medication to use and that it is a psychedelic drug used by crazy people and party-goers. While ketamine can be abused when used recreationally, it is safe to use in clinical settings when administered by a health professional in an appropriate dose. There is no need to be afraid of ketamine as it has many safe uses that have been approved by the FDA.