Ketamine is a dissociative drug originally synthesized and used by the medical community as an anesthetic. A dissociative drug blocks the user’s sensory perception of reality, distorts sound and vision and even creates a sense of detachment from reality. It is these properties that aid in pain relief and amnesia during surgery or other medical procedures. Today it is used more routinely for chronic pain and in veterinary hospitals as an anesthetic.
Just like ketamine’s cousin, the highly unpredictable street drug, PCP (phencyclidine), the recreational appeal of the drug lies in the dissociative and hallucinogenic properties. It is said to create a euphoric high that some claim feels like they are floating, while others claim to feel a full body buzz; possibly due to the sedative effects as the body succumbs to an altered state.
Effects of Ketamine Use
The effects from ketamine typically lasts an hour or less, leading to a high potential for abuse and even overdose. It is popular among the party scene and has a reputation as a club drug. Often encountered at raves (dance parties) and nightclubs, users attempt to get high and go into the “K-hole,” a term used to denote the out-of-body feeling that higher doses can bring on just before full sedation. Some people believe it is similar to experiencing a near death experience. And while known as a club drug, it is becoming more popular outside of clubs and used among younger people. Here’s where it gets scary.
One side effect of ketamine, especially when injected, is Layrnospasm; a spasm of the vocal cords that can lead to suffocation. The possibility of this side effect as well as the higher rate of nausea and vomiting is why this pharmaceutical fell out of favor with physicians as an anesthetic. Another terrifying side effect is a psychotic state that some researchers warn is similar to schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell who will experience which side effects at any given time. These side effects are random and the cause for tight regulation when used in a clinical setting. And while the effects may last only an hour, motor skills, coordination and judgment may be impaired for up to 24 hours.
Ketamine overdose can happen easily as there is no way for the user to determine how much they are taking. There is no antidote for overdose, so hospitalization is the only treatment option here. Therefore, education and open communication are helpful deterrents for use or abuse of this drug.
Signs of Ketamine Abuse
Signs of ketamine abuse or addiction may begin with habits or behaviors of the user. Frequent outings to nightclubs and parties leads to a higher chance of encountering this drug. Association with others who abuse ketamine means a greater chance a person will also do so.
Ironically the side effects of addiction make it easier to spot signs of ketamine abuse even though the user’s tolerance is higher. Some of these more obvious signs of ketamine abuse include:
- Slurred speech
- Increased salivation
- Reduced ability to feel pain
- Chest pain
- Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low energy
- Loss of coordination
- Redness of the skin
One of the more disturbing signs of ketamine abuse is incontinence, bladder pain and urinary tract infections. In fact, one study in the UK found that 30% of those who were addicted to ketamine experienced this side effect.
Street Names for Ketamine
Street names for ketamine are used as a way to avoid detection of drug use. These nicknames may be used when discussing an outing, party or particular night spot. Knowing them can help you determine if a loved one or someone you know is using Ketamine. The following is a list of street names for ketamine:
- Special K
- Vitamin K
- Cat Valium
- Kit Kat
- Super Acid
- Special LA Coke
- Super C
Because the drug is more often stolen for distribution as a recreational drug, you may come across the brand names instead of street names. Some more popular brand names for ketamine are: Ketaset, Ketelar, and Ketanest.
Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms
Because of the euphoric high created by ketamine abuse, suicide is the most disturbing withdrawal symptom to be on the watch for. This is especially true if ketamine was used to self-medicate for any reason or if depression was an underlying factor for use in the first place. Using this drug can suppress the body’s natural antidepressants, and without the replacement of the drug, relapse and even suicidal behaviors and ideologies may become prevalent.
Other ketamine withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Irregular heartbeat
These usually begin between 24 to 72 hours after last use and can last up to a week. Each person will react differently according to how much and how often they abused ketamine. If a person was addicted to ketamine, psychological symptoms like depression may last longer as the brain attempts to restore its natural chemistry.
Fortunately, most of the withdrawal symptoms as well as side effects of ketamine abuse seem to subside with discontinued use. The body can recover, and the psychological effects will subside with some initial effort. However, if a person was using to self-medicate, then any underlying behaviors and psychological issues must be addressed for full recovery.
Treatment for Ketamine Addiction
Because of the age group, night club setting and potential for use as a date-rape drug, ketamine overdose is a risk of use. If one has abused or overdosed on ketamine, the only treatment is hospitalization to help monitor the patient. Here, the person will be monitored for respiratory depression. Overdose is also a higher risk for those who mix this drug with MDMA or another drug. In either case, overdose is an indication one may need treatment for ketamine addiction.
Treatment is available and often less intense than treatment for other drugs. This addiction is more psychological, so doesn’t carry the physical withdrawal symptoms of heroin or cocaine addiction. Long term prognosis for recovery is very good and often requires avoiding the club or rave scene to avoid temptation or peer pressure. This does not lessen the need for treatment, however.
As with most drugs, the sooner treatment is sought the better chance for a full recovery. Brain damage has been detected as a long-term side effect of ketamine abuse, so medical oversight to ensure proper healing can help if this is the case. Getting help quickly lowers the risk of any serious, long term effects of the abuse.
The first step for ketamine addiction treatment is physical detoxification. Medically, ketamine treatment does not produce a significant withdrawal process. While this initial phase may not last long, some side effects, such as vomiting, kidney failure, stomach pain, and liver dysfunction, may arise. Medical detoxification utilizes oversight to monitor and possibly intercede should these symptoms arise, so the person can recover safely. Once complete, the patient can move on to the next phase of recovery.
Psychological therapy is important for ketamine addiction treatment. The patient may experience depression due to the drug’s alteration of brain chemistry, thereby causing depression that may not have been present previously. If depression was a factor in why the person began using, then psychological therapy is even more important.
Various methods of treatments are available at this stage. Individual and group counseling, 12-Step, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectial Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Biofeedback and anger management are some of these.
Individual and group therapy along with a 12-Step program is the most recognized and widely available help for addiction. Insurance often covers at least some therapy while 12-Step programs are free and widely available. Sometimes accompanying a loved one to their first meeting helps overcome any fears or discomfort of the unknown. In any of these settings, it is helpful for the addict to understand why they began using, why they feel the need to continue and even help them stay on a path to recovery as they realize they are not alone.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is becoming more popular than the Freudian therapy of the past. It is a therapy based on conversation, but instead of focusing on childhood traumas as reasons for a person’s addiction or problems, CBT is more solution oriented. The therapy is aimed at creating strategies to release harmful and distorted perceptions that can lead to self-destructive behaviors. It is based in teaching how thoughts can influence behaviors and feelings that go with it, and then learn how to replace those with more helpful, problem solving behaviors and thoughts.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is similar to CBT but more focused around harmful or destructive behaviors. It is an evidence-based approach that was originally developed for borderline personality disorder, but now used successfully in several other settings, including addiction.
Recovery for ketamine addiction is possible with a high chance of success. Fortunately, many of the physical symptoms are reversible within a week. If you or a loved one needs ketamine addiction treatment, don’t hesitate to get help. With quality help readily available, no one needs to suffer. Call an addiction treatment center for help today.
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.