Ketamine is one of the most commonly abused party drugs. Habit-forming and easily abused, it’s popular among recreational drug users— especially young people.

Recreational use of this drug may be growing in popularity, but that doesn’t change the fact that taking ketamine carries a high risk. Alarmingly, many users are unaware of the dangers.

So why are people so addicted to ketamine? Read on and find out why it’s abused:

What Is Ketamine?

You might have heard ketamine referred to as a horse tranquilizer. But if you’ve ever had surgery under general anesthetic, then chances are you’ve actually taken ketamine yourself.

Often sold under the brand Ketalar, ketamine is an NMDA receptor antagonist. It’s classified as a dissociative and is traditionally administered as a sedative during medical procedures. The World Health Organization considers it safer for medical use than many other anesthetics as it doesn’t lower blood pressure.

While it was originally used in veterinary clinics in the 1970s, it’s now given to both humans and animals. It’s administered to patients either intravenously or via a nasal spray.

what is ketamine

Ketamine can have two functions in a medical environment, depending on the situation:

  • Pain management
  • Sedation, especially for children and patients with low blood pressure

Trials are also currently underway to determine the therapeutic potential of ketamine as a treatment for depression.

Of course, there’s one more increasingly common (but far more illicit) way that ketamine is used: recreationally.

Ketamine As A Party Drug

Ketamine’s many street names — Ket, Special K, Vitamin K, or simply “K” — didn’t come from hospitals, but from those who choose to use it as a party drug.

recreational use

Over the past few decades, ketamine has become more and more popular among recreational drug users. It is often snorted in powder form or injected either intravenously or intramuscularly.

Ketamine is a Schedule 3 drug, which makes recreational use illegal. Despite this, many people still abuse ketamine.

Psychonaut John C. Lilly began experimenting extensively with ketamine back in the 1970s, documenting his experiences in his published works. Recreational use of ketamine has become increasingly popular ever since.

Nowadays, ketamine use is most frequently found amongst people under the age of 26. It’s often favored over other club drugs thanks to the length and intensity of the high.

How long does ketamine last?

Unlike other party drugs, such as MDMA, the intense ketamine high is relatively short— around 25 to 90 minutes. It produces a powerful and often hallucinogenic high.

The effects of a ketamine high include:

  • Feeling disoriented and confused
  • Disconnection from environment
  • Numbness and loss of physical sensation in the body
  • Psychedelic effects, such as hallucinations
  • Tingling in limbs
  • A sense of euphoria
  • Double vision
  • Affected speech
  • Drooling

These strong effects have also lead to ketamine being used as a date rape drug. It is virtually undetectable by taste or sight when dissolved in a drink.

What Is A “K-Hole?”

High doses of ketamine can cause the user to suffer what is known as a “K-hole”. This is basically a strong psychedelic episode that causes a complete sense of dissociation.

When in a K-hole, the user may feel completely disconnected from their physical body and surroundings. They can even feel as if they’re literally in a dark hole, unable to get out. It can be difficult or even impossible to perceive time passing. Hallucinations are a common occurrence in the K-hole.

what is a k-hole

This experience can be incredibly frightening, especially as it can happen unexpectedly. It has been likened to a near-death experience.

K-holes are often caused by taking large doses of ketamine, but can also be triggered from the accumulation of smaller, frequent doses in a short period of time.

How can you get someone out of a K-hole? Unfortunately, these effects will only subside with time— normally no longer than 90 minutes. The best thing you can do to help someone in a k-hole is to help them to lie down in a quiet, safe, and preferably dark place; have medical attention nearby if needed, and make sure they’re not at risk of choking in case they vomit.

Do not attempt to feed sugar to someone in a K-hole in order to pull them out of it, as this won’t work and can cause a choking hazard.

What Are The Dangers Of Ketamine?

While ketamine is considered to be relatively safe in a medical context, it carries many risks when taken recreationally.

Some of the short-term side effects of taking ketamine are:

  • Nausea
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Appetite loss

side effects of ketamine

Short-term symptoms can manifest very quickly after taking ketamine. But what’s really distressing is the long-term side effects. These can occur after taking large doses, or simply from taking ketamine regularly over a long period of time.

These symptoms include:

  • Affected cognitive abilities, such as memory
  • Nasal infections from snorting powder
  • Bladder and kidney infections
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Overdose, coma and death

Bladder issues are common among ketamine users, especially those who snort it. Trace amounts of ketamine can enter the digestive system and damage the bladder, causing serious long-term health issues. This condition has become so prevalent that it’s been dubbed “K Bladder”.

K Bladder (proper name ketamine cystitis, or ketamine bladder syndrome) can cause permanent organ damage. This can cause the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty urinating
  • Painful urination
  • Kidney and urinary tract infections
  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Passing blood through the urethra

Some sufferers of K Bladder have to get their bladders surgically stretched, or even removed entirely. For this reason, swallowing ketamine orally can be very harmful.

Since ketamine is an anesthetic, users put themselves at greater risk of physical injury thanks to a reduced loss of sensation in their body. Someone high on ketamine may not even realize they’ve injured themselves.

The way that ketamine is taken can also cause further health problems. Snorting powdered ketamine can lead to infections and even necrosis inside the nostrils. Injecting any drug, including ketamine, involves a risk of blood borne diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C if needles are shared.

Like many illegal drugs, ketamine use can lead to overdose and even death. In countries like the UK, where ketamine abuse is far from uncommon, many young addicts have died from the numerous health complications of their addiction.

Taking Ketamine When You Have A Medical Condition

Taking illegal drugs always carries a health risk, but especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

Diabetes And Ketamine

Diabetics (especially those with type 1 diabetes) are at high risk of developing ketoacidosis. This is a life-threatening condition caused by elevated blood sugar and ketones in the body. It is the number one cause of death among young diabetics.

How does ketamine affect diabetics? Some research suggests that ketamine can actually increase the risk of ketoacidosis. This is because it affects the body’s glucose response and tolerance.

Ketamine And Blood Pressure

Ketamine is also known to raise blood pressure immediately after consumption, which can pose a high risk to those with heart conditions or hypotension (high blood pressure).

Mixing Ketamine With Other Substances

Ketamine is a depressant, which means it doesn’t mix well with other substances— especially other depressants. The combination can cause respiratory issues, which can lead to suffocation and death.

Other common depressants include:

It’s also unwise to combine ketamine with stimulants, as ketamine elevates blood pressure. The combination can also cause anxiety or even psychotic episodes.

What’s Really In Your Ketamine?

One of the biggest risks of taking ketamine recreationally is the danger of not actually taking ketamine at all. Similar street drugs are often passed off as ketamine when sold illegally, unbeknownst to the buyer.

Some of the most common substitute drugs are:

  • Procaine, an anesthetic (also known as Nocavain)
  • PMMA, a powerful psychedelic and analog of methamphetamine
  • Methoxetamine (MXE), a highly potent dissociative
  • Fentanyl, an opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

These drugs can have completely different side effects and risks to ketamine, which can pose great danger to the user.

Of all these examples, Fentanyl is by far the most concerning. The smallest amount of this substance carries an extremely high risk of death. Just a few specks of Fentanyl can kill.

Illegal drug manufacturers often cut ketamine with these substances, making it impossible for users to detect by inspection or ingestion. All too often, the user has no idea if what they’re taking is actually ketamine until it’s too late. This is a common scenario at events such as music festivals that fail to provide drug-testing facilities.

How Is Ketamine Similar To PCP?

The effects of ketamine are sometimes compared to another dissociative: PCP (Phencyclidine), or “angel dust”. Ketamine was actually developed as an alternative to PCP, which was once also used as a sedative in hospitals.

PCP and ketamine can produce similar hallucinogenic effects. But unlike ketamine, PCP’s effects are long lasting, and can even include psychosis— which is exactly why it’s no longer used in hospitals. Unfortunately, ketamine’s predecessor is still abused illegally.

Is Ketamine Actually Addictive?

If there’s one thing ketamine proves, it’s that there’s more to drug addiction than physical cravings. As ketamine is easily binged, it’s all too easy to form a mental dependency on it.

To understand how ketamine addiction works, it’s important to understand how and why it’s abused in the first place.

The body builds a tolerance to ketamine quite quickly. This means that the user must take larger doses each time to get the same high, which makes ketamine highly habit-forming.

Of course, no one plans on becoming addicted to ketamine. But casual use can easily become more frequent, leading to a dangerous and very expensive habit.

ketamine withdrawal

While scientific research into the potential for ketamine as a treatment for depression is currently underway, attempting to self-medicate with any substance — especially ketamine — is a terrible idea. Regular use of ketamine can quickly turn habitual, which can actually worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Remember: the only person who should prescribe pharmaceuticals is a doctor. If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, seek professional help.

How Can You Tell If Someone Is On Ketamine?

Since ketamine produces such strong effects, it’s often difficult for users to conceal the fact that they’ve taken it.

Telltale signs of ketamine use include:

  • Traces of powder around the nostrils or needle marks on body
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty focusing gaze
  • A “zombie-like” walk
  • Inability to control limbs and movement
  • Difficulty concentrating and responding to others
  • Dilated pupils

How To Get Help For Ketamine Abuse

Are you concerned that a loved one may be abusing ketamine? Are you worried about your own habit?

First of all, there’s good news. Ketamine withdrawal is far less intense in comparison to other addictive substances, and typically lasts less than a week.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Fluctuating body temperature (such as chills and sweating)
  • Restlessness or low energy levels
  • Disturbed sleep and nightmares
  • Elevated heartbeat and breathing, similar to the physical sensation of anxiety

Users who decide to overcome their ketamine addiction are at high risk of developing depression and anxiety in the long-term. It’s important to seek out a program that offers both addiction treatment and therapy during this time.

Ketamine might seem like an exciting party drug, but its many side effects are far from fun. The high risk of health complications can stem from not only regular use but also casual experimentation.

Don’t become another tragic statistic. It’s never too late to take charge of your life and overcome your ketamine addiction.

Full Infographic:

special k what the real scoop on abuse and addiction to ketamine


National Institute of Drug Abuse

NYC Health

Office on Women’s Health

World Health Organization

National Drug Intelligence Center

Nursing Times


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