Ketamine Effects, Risks, and Addiction Treatment

This page will discuss the club drug ketamine and its effects, ketamine addiction, and how to seek help for ketamine misuse.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is used medically as an anesthetic (mostly in veterinary practices) or to treat disorders like severe depression and anxiety when other treatments haven’t worked.1

When used illicitly, ketamine is a dissociative drug. Dissociative drugs are hallucinogens that can make a person feel separated from reality.2

Prescription forms of ketamine are injections or nasal sprays, while illicit ketamine is often sold as a powder or liquid.2

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) labels ketamine as a Schedule-III controlled substance, indicating the potential for misuse but a low probability of forming dependence.1,3

How is Ketamine Misused?

Ketamine can be misused in a variety of ways:1

  • The powder form of ketamine is often snorted in small lines or “bumps.”
  • The liquid form may be injected directly into a person’s vein.
  • Both liquid and powder forms may be mixed in a drink or added to marijuana or tobacco before smoking.

It is also common for the drug to be mixed with or used in conjunction with MDMA, alcohol, cocaine, or other substances.4

Because of ketamine’s sedating properties, the drug is also used as a “date rape drug” to incapacitate victims.5

Ketamine Effects and Dangers

Effects and risks of ketamine use may include:2

  • Hallucinations.
  • Dreamlike states.
  • Sedation.
  • Confusion.
  • Difficulty paying attention.
  • Memory loss.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Bladder pain and ulcers.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Stomach aches.
  • Depression.
  • Respiratory depression.

If ketamine is used intravenously, the person is put at a higher risk of contracting bloodborne illnesses like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis from sharing the needle with others.2

Can You Overdose on Ketamine?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on ketamine. Common signs of a ketamine overdose include:4

  • Slow or shallow breathing.
  • Vocal cord spasms, which are usually seen with intravenous delivery.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Seizure.
  • Coma.

Overdose is often the result of combining ketamine with other drugs.4

Ketamine overdose requires emergency medical intervention.

Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine addiction—or ketamine use disorder—is the continued, uncontrollable use of ketamine, despite it causing significant harm to one’s health, career, or relationships.6

When diagnosing ketamine addiction, professionals use the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). These criteria are as follows:6

  1. Ketamine is taken in higher doses or for a longer period than intended.
  2. Expressing a persistent desire to quit or control ketamine use or making multiple unsuccessful efforts to do so.
  3. Excessive time is spent trying to obtain and use ketamine or to recover from its effects.
  4. Experiencing cravings for ketamine.
  5. Recurrent ketamine use results in the inability to complete major obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continuing to use ketamine despite repeated social or interpersonal problems caused by the effects of the ketamine.
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of ketamine use.
  8. Using ketamine in situations in which it is physically hazardous, such as driving or operating machinery.
  9. Ketamine use is continued despite the knowledge that one has a persistent or recurring physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or made worse by ketamine use.

Exhibiting 2 or more of the above criteria in a 12-month period would result in a positive diagnosis for ketamine use disorder.6

Ketamine Withdrawal

Though there are some reports that stopping the use of ketamine may cause withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and changes in sleep patterns,4 the need for medical symptom management is rare.7

Ketamine Addiction Help

Effective treatment facilities utilize the following evidence-based approaches when treating ketamine addiction:8

At Sunrise House—our inpatient rehab in New Jersey—these methods are utilized within the following levels of addiction treatment:

If you or a loved one is living with ketamine addiction, call to begin the admissions process. Our compassionate admissions navigators guide you through how to use your insurance coverage to pay for treatment or explore other ways to pay for rehab if you do not have insurance.

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