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Effects Of Ketamine Use

Ketamine, also known as Special K or simply K, belongs to a class of drugs called Dissociative Anesthetics. As a class III scheduled drug, it is approved for use in hospitals, veterinaries, and other medical settings. Ketamine is safe to use in controlled, medical practices, but it has potential for abuse.

Understanding The Effects Of Ketamine Use

Ketamine was created to be used as an Anesthetic, and its nature as a Sedative has made it a good alternative to addictive Painkillers like Morphine. It was later discovered to trigger auditory and visual hallucinations when taken in high doses. Ketamine is commonly abused as a recreational drug due to its status as a Hallucinogen, Tranquilizer, and Dissociative. Dissociative drugs can make a person feel detached from sensations and surroundings, almost like an out-of-body experience. The mental and physical effects of Ketamine use can be dangerous and prolonged use may lead to tolerance buildup or a psychological addiction.

The Effects Of Ketamine On The Body

Ketamine works on the brain by blocking N-Methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA), a glutamate receptor. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter involved with learning, memory, emotion, and pain recognition. When abused, Ketamine is typically crushed up and snorted, but it can also be injected, consumed orally as a liquid, or even added to Marijuana to smoke. When injected, effects start to occur within 1 to 5 minutes, snorting takes 5 to 15 minutes, and oral consumption requires between 5 to 30 minutes. The effects of Ketamine normally last 1 to 2 hours but the user’s senses and judgements may be affected for 24 hours or longer. Used recreationally, Ketamine can have effects such as:

  • Feeling extremely relaxed
  • Dizziness
  • Detached feeling from body
  • Slurred speech
  • Depressed mental state
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Hallucinations lasting from 30-60 minutes
  • Nystagmus (repetitive, uncontrolled movements of the eyes)

High doses of Ketamine can be extremely dangerous and serious effects include:

  • Reduced breathing
  • Muscle spasms
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Trouble balancing
  • Impaired vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe confusion

The intensity of side effects from Ketamine use is related to the amount consumed. Ketamine should not be used outside of a medical setting. Dependence and addiction are more likely to occur with Ketamine use than any other Psychedelic drugs. Dependency happens when the person relies on the drug to maintain a sense of “normalcy.” Heavy or repeated use of Ketamine will alter brain chemistry and lead to behavior that characterizes addiction such as, dependence, tolerance, and cravings. It is possible to experience withdrawal symptoms from Ketamine use; most of the symptoms are opposite to the effects of Ketamine intoxication. Some of the effects of Ketamine withdrawal include:

  • Depression
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Aggression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sleeping problems
  • Psychosis
  • Confusion

Frequent recreational use of Ketamine can cause serious mental disorders and great harm to the bladder, which can lead to Ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis.

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Ketamine In A Medical Setting

In surgery, Ketamine is used as an induction and maintenance agent for sedation while providing general Anesthesia. It is often preferred as an Anesthetic because it has a lower chance for depressed breathing and reducing blood pressure, which can often occur with Opioids. Ketamine also has the effects of an Analgesic; the drug can relieve pain, making it useful in burn therapy, battlefield injuries, and those who cannot use other Anesthetics due to side effects of allergies.

Recently, researchers have been looking into Ketamine for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicide prevention, and Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). A number of people have been prescribed Ketamine “off-label” for treatment-resistant depression. However, many doctors caution that while Ketamine may be beneficial to some patients with mood disorders, it’s important to take into account the limitations of the available data and the potential health risks.

In medical settings, Ketamine is considered relatively safe because it does not affect the protective airway reflexes or depress the circulatory system, as other Anesthetic drugs do. Ketamine still has the potential of increasing blood pressure and intracranial pressure, so people with a history of brain swelling, glaucoma, and a brain lesion or tumor should not receive this drug for medical purposes.

The Dangerous Effects Of Ketamine

When taken in higher doses, Ketamine abuse has been reported to produce vivid dreams and an “out-of-body” Hallucinogenic experience, often described as a “K-hole.”  Some users report feeling as if they’re rising above their body, while others feel like they have been teleported to other places or having sensations of “blending” into their surroundings. Most users describe the feeling as unpleasant or frightening, comparing the effects of a K-hole to a near-death experience. The deep psychological effects of taking too much Ketamine are:

  • Feelings of detachment or disassociation
  • Panic
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Changes in sensory perception (lights, sound, time)
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

The physical effects of being in a K-hole includes numbness, which can make it difficult, if not impossible, to speak or move. Not many users will enjoy the feeling of helplessness, which can include other effects such as dizziness, nausea, and uncoordinated movement. When used in higher doses, or too frequently, serious risks include:

  • Vomiting
  • Long-term memory problems
  • Urinary problems including cystitis and kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Slow heart rate and breathing
  • Overdose resulting in death

The effects of being in a K-hole can be so intense that they can get mistaken for an overdose. Overdosing from Ketamine can cause death, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms. Seek immediate help if you or someone else is experiencing:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Paralysis
  • Slow or diminished breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness

Treatment For Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine, especially when used in high doses or frequently, has potential for dependence and addiction. The effects of Ketamine can make the user become oblivious to their environment, putting them at risk of accidental injury to themselves and vulnerable to assault by others. Long-term effects of Ketamine abuse include bladder and kidney problems, stomach pain, and memory loss. Ketamine should never be used recreationally, as it can lead to serious psychological damage, and in some cases, death.  If you or someone you know is struggling with a Ketamine addiction, there are options for getting support, such as inpatient rehab and outpatient treatment. Contact a treatment provider today who can talk to you about starting the road to recovery.

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Ginni Correa

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  • Ginni Correa is a Latinx writer and activist living in Orlando, FL. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and double majored in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduation, Ginni worked as an educator in public schools and an art therapist in a behavioral health hospital where she found a passion working with at-risk populations and advocating for social justice and equality. She is also experienced in translating and interpreting with an emphasis in language justice and creating multilingual spaces. Ginni’s mission is to build awareness and promote resources that can help people transform their lives. She believes in the importance of ending stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse while creating more accessible treatment in communities. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, crafting, and attending music festivals.

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David Hampton

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  • All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by David Hampton, a certified addiction professional.

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