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.
Ketamine can have two functions in a medical environment, depending on the situation:
Sedation, especially for children and patients with low blood pressure
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
Raised blood pressure
Inability to think clearly
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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