What Is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a short-acting dissociative drug, one of two types of hallucinogens. It’s used medically as a tranquilizer or anesthetic.
People who use hallucinogens often exhibit intense emotional mood swings and report seeing, hearing and feeling things that aren’t real. Dissociative drug users may also feel disconnected from their body while high. Although the science behind it is not completely understood, research shows dissociative drugs work, in part, by disrupting the brain’s communication system that regulates sensory perception, sleep, hunger and other characteristics.
In 1999, the U.S. government identified ketamine as a Schedule III controlled substance, the third-most dangerous and addictive class of drugs. Although it has less potential for abuse than higher levels of drugs, ketamine abuse can still lead to physical and psychological dependence.
The History of Ketamine
Ketamine is an anesthetic that was originally developed in the 1960s. Today, it is mostly used by veterinary clinics to tranquilize animals, but also has some medical application on humans. Doctors mostly use ketamine on humans for radiation and burn therapy, battlefield injury treatment and for children who do not react well to other anesthetics. In these cases, it is preferred because the sedative effects are not as deep as with other medications. It is manufactured as an injectable liquid, although most abusers evaporate it into a powder — often referred to as “ketamine powder”.
New forms of ketamine (e.g. capsules, powder and crystals) were introduced in the 1970s, and began being distributed for illicit use. In the mid-1980s, ketamine grew in popularity in dance cultures as an adulterant of ecstasy.
Use, purchase and sale of ketamine at parties, dance clubs and raves has only grown since then, solidifying it as a “club drug.” Ketamine is also known as a “date rape drug” and is often used to facilitate sexual assault because it’s odorless, tasteless and produces an amnesia effect.
Popular Street Names
There are several slang terms associated with ketamine, including:
- Special K
- Vitamin K
- Cat Valium
Commonly Abused Medications
Hallucinogens can be found in nature, in some plants and their extracts, and can be man-made. The medications most commonly abused are:
How Is Ketamine Used?
Ketamine is produced as an injectable liquid for medical and veterinary practices to use as an anesthetic or tranquilizer. Although it comes in liquid form, it’s often evaporated into a powder and snorted or compressed into a pill because those methods of consumption get the user high slower. Users will notice effects of the drug in 1–5 minutes if injected, in 5–15 minutes if snorted and in 5–30 minutes if swallowed.
The user will feel the immediate effects of the drug — mainly hallucinations — for up to one hour after injection, but they may continue experiencing impaired senses, judgement and coordination for up to 24 hours after use.
The Dangers of Mixing Ketamine
Ketamine is often mixed with other drugs, like alcohol, valium and ecstasy. This practice is particularly dangerous and can result in death.
Combining ketamine with depressants like alcohol and opiates can knock the user unconscious quickly and unexpectedly. It may cause the user to stop breathing or choke on their own vomit. Combining ketamine with stimulants like ecstasy and cocaine may be too much for the user’s heart to handle. The chance of injury is also heightened — the stimulants will mobilize the user’s body, even though the ketamine may give them the feeling of disassociation.
Where Do Teens Get Ketamine?
Ketamine dealers are frequently in the news for burglarizing veterinary clinics in search of the controlled substance. Theft is the most frequent way dealers obtain the drug. In some cases the drug is also smuggled into the U.S. from overseas because in some countries, like England and Mexico, it is legal, making it easier to obtain and cheaper to buy.
Once evaporated into a powder or compressed into pills, ketamine is often bought and sold at nightclubs, parties and raves.
Symptoms of Ketamine Abuse
Teens often use ketamine to enhance their party experience — the drug alters senses, perceptions of reality, and can make a user have an out-of-body experience.
While using the drug, your teen may experience:
- A distorted sense of time, motion, colors, sounds and self
- Feelings of detachment from their body and environment
- Loss of coordination
- Memory loss
- Little or no pain
When taken in high doses, ketamine may produce nightmarish or near-death experiences that can be very frightening to the user, often referred to as a “K-hole.”
If your child has a ketamine problem, you may notice some signs, including:
- No reaction to painful stimuli like a cut or burn
- Slurred speech
- Slow motion or exaggerated movements
Users can experience ketamine withdrawal for 4–5 days after discontinuing use. Although withdrawal from dissociative drugs causes some physical symptoms like a craving for the drug, headaches, sweating and tremors, it’s more common for users to experience psychological symptoms that include anxiety, depression and nightmares.
Effects of Ketamine Abuse
Your teen may be getting high on ketamine to enhance their party experience, but they may not realize the drug will continue to affect their brain and body after the party is over.
Because ketamine can be injected, and is also sometimes used as a date rape drug, users may also be at an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases.
- Attention, learning and memory deficits
- Dreamlike states
- Problems speaking and moving
- Memory loss
- High blood pressure
- Slowed breathing that can lead to death
- Psychotic episodes
- Respiratory depression
- Heart rate abnormalities
- Bladder pain
- Stomach pain
- Kidney problems
- Poor memory
Does My Child Need Rehab?
Regular abuse of drugs like ketamine can lead to addiction. If you think your teen is abusing any substance — including alcohol — it’s time to get help.
Seek out the advice of a medical professional who can provide educated substance abuse support. In some cases (especially if they find that addiction is present in your child), they may even recommend pursuing a treatment plan.
At TeenRehabCenter.org, we speak with many parents who are dealing with situations similar to yours. Our addiction experts are available to answer any questions you may have, confidentially and free of cost. Don’t wait to act if you notice signs of substance abuse or addiction in your child — the sooner this is resolved, the brighter your child’s future can be.
- “Research Report Series: Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.” NIDA for Teens. National Institutes of Health, Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
- “Resources – Controlled Substance Schedules.” DEA Office of Diversion Control. U.S. Department of Justice, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
- “Ketamine | CESAR.” CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research). University of Maryland, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
- “What is Ketamine? Street Names & Side Effects.” Drug Free World: Substance & Alcohol Abuse, Education & Prevention. Foundation For A Drug-Free World, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
- “Ketamine.” Drug Science ~ ISCD. Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
- Vogt, Amanda. “3 Teenagers Accused Of 30 Break-ins.” Tribune Digital – Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 25 Jan. 2000. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
- Doward, Jamie. “Teenage Ketamine Problems Rising, Drug Charities Warn | Society | The Guardian.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 30 Apr. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
- “Intelligence Bulletin: Ketamine.” National Drug Intelligence Center. U.S. Department of Justice, July 2004. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
- “Ketamine: How Drugs Affect You by Australian Drug Foundation.” Issuu. Australian Drug Foundation, 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
- “Commonly Abused Drugs Charts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). National Institutes of Health, Jan. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
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