Physical Symptoms of Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic and hallucinogen that can be found as a white powder or clear liquid. Ketamine is occasionally used in humans before surgery or other procedures, but it is most often used in veterinary practice. The liquid form of this drug is often stolen from veterinary offices or obtained through other illicit means, and then sold as a recreational drug.
People abuse ketamine for its dissociative and psychedelic effects, and it is sometimes known as a “date rape drug” due to being used to facilitate sexual assault. Some people who use the drug frequently become addicted to ketamine.
Ketamine is abused by either injecting the drug intravenously or intramuscularly, or heating and evaporating the liquid to leave behind a fine white powder, which is then snorted or orally ingested. It is often added to tobacco or marijuana cigarettes and then smoked.


Short-term Effects of Ketamine Use

Knowing the signs of someone that has been unknowingly drugged by ketamine could possibly help prevent a sexual assault or other crime.

The immediate effects of ketamine tend to be short-lived. Negative physical effects generally result from long-term repeated abuse of the drug. Short-term effects, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Coalition (NHTSC), include:

  • Reduced awareness of the environment
  • Sedation
  • A dream-like state
  • Colorful dreams
  • Feelings intense strength and power
  • Decreased focus
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Alterations in discernment
  • General anesthesia
  • Motionlessness
  • Tachycardia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Excessive salvia production
  • Increased urination
  • Decreased ability to feel pain
  • Forgetfulness
  • Garbled speech
  • Decreased coordination

While ketamine is often abused for its perceived pleasant effects, many people have very negative reactions to this drug. Some people experience nervousness, chest pain, tremors, worry, flashbacks, disorientation, psychosis, lightheadedness, vomiting, nausea, seizures, and paranoia.

The onset of ketamine effects depends on how the drug is administered. If the drug is smoked, it takes effects immediately. Snorting produces effects in 5-10 minutes, and oral administration will produce effects in 15-20 minutes. The effects will last 30-45 minutes after injection, 45-60 minutes after snorting, and 1-2 hours after oral ingestion. Because ketamine is a relatively short-lasting drug, some people use in a binge cycle, in which they repeatedly use the drug to get high and re-administer the drug when they begin to crash.

While some people may become dependent on ketamine, few people experience any physiological symptoms of withdrawal. Psychological withdrawal symptoms generally include drug cravings and flashbacks.

Physiological Effects of Chronic Ketamine Abuse

Frequent, repeated abuse of ketamine can cause damage to various major organs, including the digestive tract, urinary tract, and brain. Drug abuse also strains the liver and kidneys, and it can lead to permanent damage to these systems.

According to a study published by the journal Addiction, some of the major physical harms caused by ketamine are ulcerative cystitis and memory deficits. Frequent and heavy use of ketamine is more likely to cause these long-term problems. Bingeing on ketamine carries particularly high risks of these issues.

Ulcerative cystitis generally results from chronic and frequent use of this drug. Ulcerative cystitis is the destruction of the lower urinary tract. While the symptoms of ulcerative cystitis can be treated, the damage may not be reversible.

The most severe cases of cystitis result in bladder augmentation, in which damaged parts of the urinary tract are removed. The most effective treatment of ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis is to completely cease all use of ketamine. Once the drug is no longer being used, symptoms relating to urinary tract damage may subside.

Memory deficits resulting from ketamine use are most likely to result from damage to the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory and spatial reasoning. The journal Frontiers in Psychiatry published a study that found chronic ketamine use was associated with spatial memory deficits, resulting from changes to certain parts of the brain. Chronic use of this drug was also found to cause episodic memory loss by the International Journal of the Addictions.

Effects of Ketamine on the Body

Ketamine is a strong dissociative drug that is primarily abused for its effects on the mind; however, the drug also has serious negative effects on the body. If symptoms, such as abdominal pain, difficulty urinating, or memory loss, are experienced, ketamine use should be stopped immediately. The best way to recovery from physical damage caused by ketamine use is by entering a comprehensive substance use recovery program.

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