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What Is Ketamine?


Ketamine is a prescription drug with a history of serving as an anesthetic or a substance used to help people lose consciousness before a surgery or procedure. Ketamine can also relieve pain and promote a general sense of relaxation. It’s used in human and veterinary medicine.

Ketamine is a schedule III controlled substance in the U.S., only intended to be used in certain hospital and clinical settings. Off-label, the use of ketamine to help treat depression is currently being explored. However, ketamine isn’t currently approved by the FDA as a treatment for depression.

Despite its approved medical uses, it is also a drug of abuse. Ketamine can be diverted from medical use, and it’s recreationally abused because of the hallucinogenic and dissociative properties it has.

Ketamine is often used in club and party settings because it is similar to the drug PCP. It can cause people to fall into a trance-like state and disconnect from everything around them. Ketamine is also used as a date rape drug.

Street names for ketamine include Special K, Vitamin K, KikKat and Cat Valium.

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.

Signs of Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine-Facility-Addiction-Drug-AbuseThe signs of ketamine addiction can be different from addiction to other substances. One of the first signs is the development of tolerance. This indicates someone might need higher and higher doses of ketamine to achieve the effects they desire.

Beyond that, people often become addicted to how they feel about ketamine and the experiences they believe surround their ketamine use. It’s a bit different than becoming addicted to something like prescription drugs, for example.

Despite these differences, many of the signs of ketamine addiction are similar to other addiction symptoms. Signs of ketamine addiction might include:

  • Continuing to use ketamine even when there are negative physical side effects
  • Diminished functionality related to ketamine
  • Damaged relationships with loved ones
  • The use of ketamine is a top priority
  • Putting oneself in danger either while on ketamine, or to get more ketamine
  • Combining ketamine with other substances to heighten the effects
  • The feeling of being unable to stop using ketamine, despite wanting to

Ketamine Effects

Ketamine-Residential-Recovery-Rehab-ClinicThe structure and the effects of ketamine are similar to club drugs like PCP and ecstasy. Ketamine is part of a class of drugs known as dissociative anesthetics. When someone uses ketamine, particularly recreationally, they may feel like they’re disconnected from their environment and their body.

Some users describe it as feeling like they’re floating outside of their body. Other sensations people describe with the use of ketamine include hallucinations and euphoria. Ketamine is considered safe when used in medical settings.

However, it can be dangerous or deadly when used outside of medical purposes. For some people, recreational use of Ketamine can be pleasant, while others find it a terrifying experience. There isn’t any way for a person to determine how they’ll react to ketamine if they do use it recreationally.

Effects of ketamine can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in perception
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion and delirium
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Changes in vision and dilated pupils
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Involuntary muscle movement
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in behavior
  • Amnesia
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Increased pressure in the brain and eyes

Adverse effects that can occur with the recreational use of ketamine in particular include:

  • Psychosis
  • Addiction
  • Breathing problems
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Accidental injury

The effects of ketamine – and in particular changes related to coordination and judgment – can last up to 24 hours.

Long-term ketamine effects can include problems with the stomach, bladder, and kidneys. Continued recreational abuse of ketamine can also contribute to the development of depression, ongoing memory loss and a bladder condition known as ulcerative cystitis.

Side Effects of Abuse

Ketamine side effects can include kidney and urinary tract problems, confusion, hallucinations, depression, paranoia, convulsions, delusions, and nausea and vomiting. The problems will only compound when the person has an underlying mental illness. Ketamine is known to exacerbate other problems and illnesses.

The damage done can be managed or reversed for the most part. Treatment needs to start now, the sooner you can begin, the easier the addiction will be to treat.

Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Ketamine-Facility-Center-Risks-ResourceKetamine withdrawal symptoms are often compared to withdrawal from drugs like cocaine. The primary symptom of ketamine withdrawal is believed to be cravings. It can be difficult for someone to overcome ketamine cravings during the withdrawal period, so a professional detox program may be advantageous.

There aren’t usually physical symptoms of ketamine withdrawal, but sometimes if a person is a long-term user of the drug they may have physical health concerns that need to be addressed. For example, ongoing ketamine use can damage the urinary tract and impair bladder function, so these issues may need to be treated during detox.

People who abuse ketamine often either had a co-occurring mental health disorder before they used the drug, or the drug created psychological symptoms. This will require dual diagnosis treatment. To learn more about ketamine addiction treatment options and resources, contact Amethyst Recovery.

Ketamine Treatment Options

If someone is recreationally abusing ketamine, there are options available to them in terms of treatment.

  • Ketamine Rehab Options: Options for someone who is abusing ketamine are varied. Many ketamine rehab options will begin with a medical detox, followed by either inpatient or outpatient treatment.
  • Ketamine Detox: A full ketamine detox may be required before someone begins treatment. The symptoms of ketamine withdrawal tend to be more psychological, rather than physical. For example, someone might have cravings and symptoms of psychological dependence.
  • Ketamine Residential: A residential treatment for ketamine requires that someone check into a facility for a period of time. Residential treatment can include inpatient rehab, as well as specialized treatments such as long-term rehab or a therapeutic community.
  • Ketamine Inpatient: The terms residential rehab and inpatient rehab are often used interchangeably. Both situations require a person to stay overnight in a facility for a period of time, based on their individualized treatment plan.
  • Ketamine PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program): A PHP is an addiction treatment program that’s intensive and requires all-day participation on the part of the patient, but in the evening they can return home or to a sober living house.
  • Ketamine Outpatient: Outpatient treatment can range from intensive outpatient programs to drug education, but the commonality between all outpatient programs is that the participant doesn’t have to stay in treatment overnight and can continue their daily life as normal.

An Evaluation of Care

The patient will provide answers about their health history, any co-occurring mental health diagnoses they may already know about, and they may receive a diagnosis for mental health disorders they weren’t aware of previously.

The evaluation may occur before detox or during detox as well. Once a treatment plan is created, the patient begins therapy. Inpatient ketamine rehab might include a variety of psychological treatments such as group and individual therapy, as well as educational sessions.

When necessary, medical treatments are provided, such as medicines to treat symptoms of any co-occurring psychiatric disorders. Once someone has completed their treatment program, they gradually transition back into daily life. Not everyone will be ready to go back to their life immediately following inpatient ketamine rehab.

A person may move into a partial hospitalization program following inpatient rehab, and then to an outpatient rehab program.

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.

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