Ketamine is a dissociative drug, veterinary anesthetic drug that’s been approved for use with both animals and humans — though it’s primarily used for animals. Ketamine is used for pain relief. For example, during surgical procedures, ketamine may be used as an anesthetic.
Ketamine is a noncompetitive NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor antagonist that blocks HCN1 receptors. In high doses, however, it can bind to opioid mu and sigma receptors.
Ketamine depresses sensory receptors in the cortex and parts of the limbic system and thalamus, which also control memory development and peripheral sensory awareness. Because of this, ketamine can leave the user unable to process pain or memories — which is why it can be used as an anesthetic. Ketamine also has pain killing effects through interacting with nitric oxide (NO), a central and peripheral neurotransmitter related to pain.
While the drug has been approved for some uses, some people abuse ketamine for its hallucinogenic properties similar to those associated with PCP. The drug’s common street names include Horse Tranquilizer, Cat Tranquilizer, Jet K, Kit Kat, Purple, Special K, Special La Coke, Super K, and Vitamin K.
Ketamine is illegally sold as a white or off-white powder or as a colorless, odorless liquid. People who abuse ketamine will mix it with smokable materials such as marijuana or tobacco and pour it into beverages. As a powder, people also snort the drug or press it into tablets, usually in combination with other drugs like ecstasy. As a liquid, people also inject the drug intramuscularly.
Teenagers and young adults — primarily those aged between 12 and 25 — represent most ketamine users and abusers. In 2000, this group accounted for almost three-quarters of the ketamine emergency department mentions in the country. Nearly three percent of high school seniors used the drug at least once in the last year alone.
Of course, abusing ketamine, like all drugs, is dangerous and can have life-threatening effects.
The opioid-like effects of ketamine are quick and powerful. Some people who are looking for relaxation and pain relief turn to ketamine-induced sedation. Others seek escapism via ketamine because it allows them to dissociate from their surroundings.
The effects don’t last as long as other hallucinogens like LSD or MDMA, but they do last about an hour on average. Meanwhile, the adverse side effects of abusing the drug can leave a lasting impact.
The side effects of ketamine drug use include, but are not limited to, the following:
Of course, increased frequency of use and higher doses of the drug can worsen these side effects and take a greater toll on your overall health.
Because ketamine causes temporary memory loss, the drug has become a notorious “date-rape” drug in cases of sexual assault. It is also possible to overdose on ketamine by consuming a toxic amount of the drug, which can slow the heart rate and cause a loss of consciousness, a coma, permanent psychosis, tissue damage, and even death. Accidental ketamine overdoses are common.
Some common signs of a ketamine overdose include the following:
If you, a loved one, or someone you know has overdosed on ketamine, contact emergency medical help immediately.
Rehab facilities are open and accepting new patients
Ketamine’s effects come on fast and don’t last long, but the drug can still be detected in your system long after you’ve taken it. The time frames for detecting ketamine use will increase with high doses.
The detection window for testing a urine sample is quite long. It can be detected in the urine for about two weeks.
Drug testing for ketamine in the saliva isn’t super useful. A swab may only detect recent use.
Ketamine can be detected in the blood for up to about four days.
Ketamine can be detected in hair follicles for up to about 90 days.
The half-life of ketamine is approximately 45 minutes. The effects may last a lot longer depending on how much ketamine is consumed.
Ketamine abuse can severely harm users’ physical and mental health. If you or a loved one is struggling with misuse and/or addiction, treatment options are available.
A medically-monitored detox will remove the toxins from your body and help users avoid relapsing when they experience intense cravings. The detoxification process is safest under the supervision of a healthcare professional who can help the user to manage withdrawal symptoms during the detox period. Otherwise, the user is at risk of relapsing and overdosing. Withdrawal symptoms may include, but are not limited to, the following:
Substance use and ketamine addiction treatment is also available in the form of inpatient and outpatient rehab, traditional talk therapy, group addiction counseling, psychiatric services, and holistic therapies that incorporate everything from art to religion.
You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.
“10 Signs Someone Is High on Ketamine.” Sunrise House, sunrisehouse.com/club-drugs/ketamine/.
“How Long Does Ketamine Stay in Your System? (Blood, Urine & More): Delphi.” Delphi Behavioral Health Group, 23 Nov. 2019, delphihealthgroup.com/ketamine/stay-in-system/.
Ketamine Fast Facts, www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs4/4769/.
“Ketamine.” DEA, www.dea.gov/factsheets/ketamine.
“Ketamine.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Ketamine.
“Ketamine: Is It Addictive? (Signs, Symptoms & Treatment): Delphi.” Delphi Behavioral Health Group, 3 Oct. 2019, delphihealthgroup.com/ketamine/.
Kurdi, Madhuri S, et al. “Ketamine: Current Applications in Anesthesia, Pain, and Critical Care.” Anesthesia, Essays and Researches, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258981/.
Mountainside. “Ketamine.” Mountainside Addiction Treatment Center, mountainside.com/drug-glossary/ketamine.
Orhurhu, Vwaire J. “Ketamine Toxicity.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Nov. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541087/.
Rosenbaum, Steven B. “Ketamine.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 Oct. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470357/.
Williams, Nolan R., et al. “Attenuation of Antidepressant Effects of Ketamine by Opioid Receptor Antagonism.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 29 Aug. 2018, ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18020138.