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The Side Effects of Ketamine

When properly administered by a doctor, a therapeutic dose of ketamine will leave a patient feeling calm and relaxed. During their state of sedation patients will also experience immobility, amnesia, and relief from pain. 

The recreational misuse of ketamine can be physically hazardous and poses many dangers to the user, especially at higher doses.1 Individuals who take a high enough dose of ketamine are at risk of entering a “K-hole,” an unpleasant experience characterized by intense visual and auditory hallucinations coupled with a frightening detachment from reality.2

The most common adverse side effects of ketamine use include:3 

Psychiatric

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Amnesia
  • Confusion
  • Reduced awareness of environment 
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Dissociation

Ophthalmologic

  • Double vision
  • Involuntary eye movements

Neurologic

  • Seizures
  • Impaired motor function

Gastrointestinal

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Respiratory

  • Slowed breathing
  • Cessation of breathing

Cardiovascular

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Irregular heartbeat 

Long-Term Effects of Ketamine Use

The chronic abuse of ketamine can result in psychological dependence, causing users to experience intense cravings when not taking the drug. Someone who becomes psychologically dependent on ketamine may go through withdrawal if use of the drug is suddenly stopped. This can result in anxiety, depression, insomnia, and flashbacks.4 

Other long-term effects associated with ketamine use include memory impairments, bladder and kidney problems, and depression.5

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine hydrochloride, also commonly referred to as ketamine, is a short-acting general anesthetic that is injected into patients to produce loss of consciousness before and during surgery or other medical procedures. 

The off-label use of ketamine has also been utilized for the successful treatment of chronic and acute pain, procedural sedation, and alcohol withdrawal management.6-8 A nasal spray form of the drug, called esketamine, has been recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of major depression.9  

Ketamine is a dissociative drug that distorts perceptions of sight and sound, produces hallucinations, and provides the user with feelings of detachment from both the environment and self. 

Due to these effects, the recreational use of ketamine has gained popularity among teens and young adults as a “club drug” that is used at dance clubs and raves. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the liquid drug is usually injected or mixed in drinks, or it is heated and provided as a powder that can be snorted or smoked.10 

Treatment Options

If you or someone you love is struggling to quit ketamine, please contact an addiction specialist at a professional rehab facility to discuss your treatment options. Abruptly quitting ketamine can cause intense cravings and discomfort, so it may be necessary to first undergo a medically supervised detox where any withdrawal symptoms can be properly managed. 

Following detox, treatment programs will be personalized to address the length and severity of ketamine abuse as well as the presence of any co-occurring disorders. Treatment will often encompass various forms of individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and behavioral therapy.

Sources

  1. Wood, D., Cottrell, A., Baker, S.C., Southgate, J., Harris, M., Fulford, S., …& Gillatt, D. (2011). Recreational ketamine: from pleasure to pain. BJU International,107(12), 1881-1884.
  2. Muetzelfeldt, L., Kamboj, S.K., Rees, H., Taylor, J., Morgan, C.J., & Curran, HV. (2008). Journey through the K-hole: phenomenological aspects of ketamine use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 95(3):219-229.
  3. Rosenbaum, S.B., & Palacios, J.L. (2019). Ketamine. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
  4. Lin, P.C., Lane, H.Y., & Lin, C.H. (2016). Spontaneous Remission of Ketamine Withdrawal-Related Depression. Clinical Neuropharmacology, 39(1), 51-52.
  5. Morgan, C.J., & Curran, H.V. (2012). Ketamine use: a review. Addiction, 107(1), 27-38.
  6. BinKharfi, M., & AlSagre, A. (2019). BET 2: Safety and efficacy of low-dose ketamine versus opioids for acute pain management in the ED. Emergency Medicine Journal, 36(2), 128-129.
  7. Bell, R.F., & Kalso, E.A. (2018). Ketamine for pain management. PAIN Reports, 3(5), e674.
  8. Wieruszewski, P.M., Leung, J.G., & Nelson, S. (2018). Ketamine Use in the Intensive Care Unit. AACN Advanced Critical Care, 29(2), 101-106.
  9. Yale Medicine. (2019). How New Ketamine Drug Helps with Depression
  10. Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide. (2017). Ketamine.
Last Updated on December 9, 2019
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