The dissociative anesthetic ketamine is typically used to treat acute or chronic pain, or as a surgical anesthetic. It is often used in veterinary medicine, but it is also popularly used medically in children, since its anesthetic properties are not as strong as some similar drugs.
In addition to ketamine’s legitimate anesthetic uses, the drug is often abused for its dissociative effects. Ketamine can cause hallucinations and novel sensations, leading to its growth in popularity as a “club drug.” This drug is also sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault.
Most people begin abusing ketamine after being introduced to the drug in a social setting. Illegally obtained ketamine is typically stolen from doctor or veterinary offices. Tolerance to this drug builds very quickly, which can cause recreational use to quickly lead to severe drug abuse and addiction.
Chronic abuse of ketamine causes severe and sometimes irreversible damage to the physical body. The most common results of ketamine abuse are destruction of the urinary tract and brain damage resulting in memory deficits.
Short-term Effects of Ketamine Use
Ketamine can have strong acute effects on physical health. Short-term effects are dependent on the dosage of the drug used. The tolerance of the individual using ketamine also affects the short-term effects of the drug. An individual who has used ketamine regularly for an extended period of time may feel few effects after a small dose, while someone who has never used ketamine may react strongly.
Small doses of ketamine can result in the following effects, according to the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR):
- A floating sensation
- Dissociation (detachment from reality)
Larger doses of ketamine can produce much stronger dissociative and anesthetic effects, including:
- Extreme respiratory depression
- Muscle twitches
- Lightheadedness or wooziness
- Garbled speech
Ketamine intoxication can result in extreme sedation. This leaves the individual in a vulnerable position, making ketamine a popular choice as a “date rape” drug.
In addition to the physical signs of ketamine intoxication, there are several behavioral signs that an acquaintance or loved one is struggling with a drug addiction. According to Mayo Clinic, these signs include trouble at work or school, unexplained physical health issues, neglecting appearance and grooming, increased secrecy or changes in behavior, and increases in spending.
Long-term Effects of Ketamine Abuse
Drug abuse of any kind is extremely hard on the body over time. Damage to major organs is common among people who abuse substances over a sustained period of time.
Individuals who abuse ketamine can suffer damage to the renal system, the bladder, and the brain. A study published by the journal Addiction found that ulcerative cystitis – severe inflammation of the bladder – was a major concern among people suffering from ketamine addiction. Neurocognitive impairment was also typically present, most commonly leading to deficits in memory. Ceasing all use of ketamine is the best way to prevent and reverse these problems.
Some psychological results of ketamine abuse may be reversed upon cessation of drug use. Another study from the journal Addiction found that individuals who significantly lowered their rates of ketamine use were able to improve their memory functioning. However, these same individuals continued to display schizotypal symptoms and perceptual distortions even after stopping ketamine use, suggesting that some damage to cognitive functioning may be long-lasting or permanent.
Cystitis and contracted bladder are extremely common among individuals who abuse ketamine on a frequent basis. A study from the journal BJU International reported that moderate to severe lower urinary tract symptoms were experienced by the vast majority of individuals abusing ketamine. Severe damage to the urinary tract can result in renal damage, which may be irreversible.
In addition to the physical damage caused by ketamine abuse, abuse of any drug can have a lasting impact. Over time, drug abuse alters brain structure and chemistry. The resulting changes within the brain can affect impulse control and decision-making abilities, leading the individual to continue abusing drugs and making it very difficult to stop. NIDA also reports that cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and lung disease are common consequences of drug abuse.
Recovery Is Possible
Addiction is a devastating brain disease that can affect every area of an individual’s life. Ketamine addiction is a serious disorder that requires thorough, evidence-based treatment by mental health professionals and medical doctors. Immediate intervention and long-term aftercare can help to prevent severe physical health problems from taking hold after ketamine abuse. With proper treatment, both addiction and its consequences can be successfully managed for life.