Ketamine Use: Effects, Risks & Addiction

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that may be used illegally for recreational use, often with other drugs.1,2

This article discusses the effects and dangers of ketamine use and options for addiction treatment.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is considered a dissociative drug, pharmacologically similar to phencyclidine (PCP).1

In medical practices, it is used as an anesthetic and sedative for both humans and animals.1 Ketamine may also be prescribed to manage treatment-resistant depression.3

People use ketamine recreationally for its dissociative effects, which can result in feeling detached from one’s surroundings and can also induce altered states of consciousness, specifically feelings of disconnection from reality, causing the sense of being out-of-touch with one’s own body as well as physical surroundings.3 Ketamine is commonly known as a “club drug” that is often used at raves and other social gatherings.2

Ketamine is usually distributed either in tablets or capsules or as a powder or liquid in small bottles or vials.1,2

People use ketamine by: 1

  • Snorting.
  • Smoking.
  • Injecting.
  • Taking it orally.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies ketamine as a Schedule III drug. Schedule III substances have recognized medical uses but also the potential for misuse and dependency.4

Effects & Dangers of Ketamine

Desired effects of ketamine use may include:5,6

  • Hallucinations.
  • Distortions in someone’s perceptions of sight and sound.
  • Feeling detached from oneself or their surroundings.

Possible immediate risks of ketamine use include:5,6

  • Sedation.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Losing consciousness.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Overdose

Over time, chronic ketamine use may cause:5,6

  • Trouble learning or concentrating.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Urinary problems.
  • Ulcers.

Ketamine has also been used to incapacitate people for sexual assault.6

Injection of ketamine carries the risk of spreading bloodborne infections and diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.6

Can You Overdose on Ketamine?

Ketamine use rarely results in overdose. Fatal overdoses are typically associated with  high-dose use or use in conjunction with other substances like alcohol. 4,5

Ketamine overdose may include symptoms such as:5

  • Slow, shallow breathing (i.e., respiratory depression).
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Seizures.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Altered mental status and confusion.

Illegally manufactured substances like ketamine may contain dangerous adulterants, including fentanyl, that can increase the risk of overdose and other adverse health effects.4

In any case of overdose, immediate medical care is necessary. If opioids are known or suspected to be involved, Narcan (naloxone) should be administered as soon as possible.7

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Yes, ketamine addiction can occur, though it is rare.5 Ketamine addiction—clinically known as ketamine use disorder—is the uncontrollable use of ketamine despite significant negative effects on someone’s life.8

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) outlines a series of criteria used to diagnose ketamine use disorder. These criteria include:8 Using ketamine in larger amounts or for a longer period than intended.

  1. Experiencing a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control ketamine use.
  2. Spending a great deal of time obtaining ketamine, using it, or recovering from its effects.
  3. Experiencing strong desires, urges or cravings to use ketamine.
  4. Recurring ketamine use that results in a failure to fulfill major life obligations at home, work, or school.
  5. Continuing to use despite experiencing ongoing or recurrent interpersonal or social problems caused or exacerbated by ketamine use.
  6. Giving up or reducing engagement in important social, work, or recreational activities as a result of ketamine use.
  7. Using ketamine repeatedly in situations where it could cause physical harm, such as driving or operating machinery while under its influence.
  8. Continuing to use ketamine despite awareness that it is causing or worsening physical or psychological problems.
  9. Developing tolerance, meaning someone needs notably increased amounts of ketamine to achieve the desired effect or use of the same dosage results in diminished effects.

2 or more of the above criteria observed within 12 months would result in a diagnosis of ketamine use disorder:7

Ketamine Withdrawal & Ketamine Detox

Although there is no recognized ketamine withdrawal syndrome in the DSM-5, , some people have reported the following withdrawal symptoms after quitting regular ketamine use at high doses:9,10

  • Craving.
  • Fatigue.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Anxiety.

Treatment for Ketamine Misuse in California

Treatment for addiction primarily involves behavioral therapy, peer support, psychoeducation, and treatment for co-occurring disorders.11 There are no medications approved by the FDA for the treatment of ketamine addiction.6

Ketamine addiction treatment can occur in a variety of treatment settings. Laguna Treatment Center in California offers multiple levels of care for drug rehab such as medical detoxification, residential care, and aftercare.

Call to speak with an admissions navigator and discuss the admissions process, options for paying for ketamine rehab, such as health insurance coverage. You can also verify your insurance coverage by using the confidential .

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