Ketamine Abuse and Addiction

Ketamine, also known as Special K, kitkat, cat valium or cat tranquilizer, is a popular drug often used by teens and young adults at nightclubs, dances, bars, or all night dance parties known as “raves.” It is injected, snorted, mixed with drinks or added to cigarettes or joints. Effects last at least 30 minutes and may continue for several hours, with residual effects sometimes lasting much longer.

What is Ketamine?

Developed by an American pharmaceutical company in 1962, ketamine showed great promise as an effective, fast-acting anesthetic and a safe alternative to PCP. Although ketamine was initially implemented as a veterinary anesthetic, it was approved for human consumption in 1970 and was frequently used by the military during the war in Vietnam. Today, ketamine is still used for minor surgeries, but is primarily used by veterinarians.

The drug was first used for recreational purposes in the 1970s, primarily on the American west coast, spreading across the country by the 1980s. The drug, which comes in powder, pills, liquids and crystals, is widely available on the black market, frequently stolen from veterinary hospitals. Although it is used recreationally around the world, it is illegal in many countries.

What are the Effects and Risks of Ketamine?

Ketamine is considered a dissociative anesthetic because users experience euphoria, extreme relaxation, altered reality, distorted perception and sense of detachment. The drug also stops pain and produces loss of feelings and muscle paralysis. Less pleasant effects include nausea and numbness.

Higher doses may result in a feeling of complete detachment of mind and body and a sensation of floating, which users refer to as the “K-Hole.” Users who attain this state of mind compare this almost-total sedation to a near death experience accompanied by distorted senses and hallucinations. Flashbacks may occur several weeks later.

Frequent users of ketamine may experience amnesia, panic attacks, severe agitation, confusion, depression and loss of short- and long-term memory. The drug is sometimes surreptitiously added to beverages and used in rapes or unwanted sexual advances.

In some cases, use of the drug may cause bladder and urinary track damage, known as ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis. The disorder, evidenced by painful urination and difficulty passing urine, can sometimes become severe enough to necessitate removal of the bladder. Excessive use can also cause abdominal pain, blood clots and liver damage.

If needles are shared, there is an increased risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Because ketamine blocks pain so effectively, users risk severe injury when they unknowingly walk on a broken bone or sprained muscle.

A potential for danger exists due to the unpredictable nature of the drug, which is often cut with a variety of other substances. Use of ketamine is extremely risky when the drug is mixed with alcohol or other drugs such as ecstasy or meth. The combination may result in dangerously high blood pressure, breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness and fatal overdose.

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Many people assume that ketamine isn’t addictive. It’s true that it generally isn’t addictive in the same manner that alcohol or heroin are addictive, as ketamine dependence is more psychological and less physical in nature. However, users can develop a tolerance to ketamine relatively quickly, in which they need more and more of the drug to attain the same results. As tolerance builds, users eventually may be unable to experience any pleasant effects.

Although withdrawal from ketamine usually isn’t severe, people who stop using the drug suddenly may suffer from cravings, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or dizziness, while heavy users may experience severe anxiety or schizophrenic symptoms. Cognitive changes and deficits in judgment can make it difficult for people to stop using the drug without professional help.

Treating Ketamine Addiction

Long-term ketamine users benefit from highly individualized drug treatment or rehab to understand why they are compelled to use mind-altering drugs. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach that helps people identify and change negative thinking patterns that can lead to drug use. It’s common for drug users to require assistance with underlying problems such as depression or anxiety.

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