Ketamine is a potent anesthetic approved by the FDA for use in a highly controlled medical setting. In recent years, mental and medical health experts have begun to explore ketamine use as a possible treatment for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and other conditions.
However, ketamine has also made its way into the illicit drug market, and recreational use of this powerful drug has exploded. Users may take it for its dissociative or sedative effects. People may also use it to immobilize victims of sexual assault.
Misusing ketamine can severely affect your health, safety, and overall well-being. Using it recreationally or misusing it in any way can lead to physical dependence and addiction, which are complex conditions that require comprehensive treatment.
This article will explore ketamine’s effects and signs of abuse and addiction. If you or a loved one are struggling with ketamine addiction, please reach out to the New Jersey Addiction Intervention specialists now to learn about our supportive addiction treatment programs.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a pharmaceutical drug used in medical settings during procedures requiring sedation and anesthesia. The effects of ketamine typically last for a short period–about 30 minutes–making it an ideal drug for quick surgeries and procedures or emergency use.
Ketamine has made news recently as doctors have begun to explore other potential uses for ketamine. Some medical providers use it off-label (without FDA approval for a purpose outside of its intended use) to help patients manage pain, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It is commonly prescribed as a nasal spray called Spravato (esketamine).
Ketamine has become widely available for recreational use. Its popularity has risen with users seeking this drug’s hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. Pharmaceutical ketamine is legal for use only in a medical setting. Using it recreationally in any capacity is drug misuse.
Ketamine is also known by other street names, including:
- Special K
- Cat tranquilizer
- Kit Kat
- Honey oil
- Super Acid
Users typically ingest ketamine by injecting a liquid form of the drug, mixing it into drinks, or snorting or smoking the powdered form.
The Effects of Ketamine
The amount of ketamine and how you ingest it affects the side effects people experience. Higher doses of the drug typically cause dissociative effects, while lower doses lead to pain relief and sedation.
The physical effects of ketamine use include:
- Loss of muscle control
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow or shallow breathing
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Nausea and vomiting
Some of the mental effects of ketamine include:
- Poor attention
- Amnesia (memory loss)
- Dreamlike state
People who ingest ketamine may be less aware of their surroundings and unable to anticipate potential danger. They may be at increased risk of sexual or physical assault or more likely to be the victim of other crimes. Ketamine use also increases the risk of death or injury from unintended harm, such as a fall, drowning, or hypothermia.
While many of the effects of ketamine occur immediately after ingestion, some physical and mental effects may take longer to develop. These include:
- Bladder pain
- Chronic stomach pain
- Long-term issues with memory
If you misuse ketamine, you must seek treatment immediately to avoid severe complications, including dependence and addiction.
Is Ketamine Addictive?
Yes, when abused, ketamine can be habit-forming and addictive. Addiction is often characterized by a loss of control over how often a person uses drugs and how much they use. This occurs when the brain’s reward system is altered as a result of regular substance abuse, leading to compulsive drug-seeking behavior.
Ketamine interacts with the brain’s glutamate system, particularly NMDA receptors, which are involved in learning, memory, and mood regulation. While ketamine’s exact mechanism isn’t fully understood, its impact on these receptors is thought to contribute to its dissociative and anesthetic effects that people may seek out.
Recognizing Ketamine Abuse and Addiction
Ketamine has the potential for abuse, and people who abuse it may become dependent on it. However, ketamine’s addictive potential is not solely rooted in physical dependence. Unlike opioids or benzodiazepines, which can lead to severe physical withdrawal symptoms, ketamine withdrawal is more psychologically driven. Users may experience cravings, mood swings, and cognitive difficulties when attempting to quit after sustained use.
The effects of ketamine are intense and short-lived, meaning that people may want to use it frequently. Over time, the body can develop dependence on ketamine, making it nearly impossible to stop using it without treatment and support.
Recognizing the signs of ketamine abuse and addiction can help you seek treatment as quickly as possible. If you or someone you love misuse ketamine, you must pay attention for signs of a substance use disorder, including:
- Needing to take more ketamine to get the effects you want
- Wanting to stop using ketamine but finding you can’t
- Spending a lot of time and energy getting, using, and recovering from using ketamine
- Neglecting your hobbies, relationships, and responsibilities because of your substance use
- Isolating yourself from friends and family
- Feeling anxious if you run out of ketamine and can’t get more
- Experiencing cravings for ketamine if you stop taking it
- Having withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, shaking, and sweating if you stop using ketamine
If you or a loved one exhibits any of these signs of a ketamine use disorder, you must seek the support of a medically-supported detox program and substance abuse treatment. Comprehensive addiction treatment can help you identify the roots of your addiction and learn the skills to leave substance abuse behind and move forward.
Symptoms of Ketamine Withdrawal
When individuals who have been using ketamine regularly attempt to quit or significantly reduce their usage, they may experience a range of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration based on factors such as the length of use, dosage, and individual differences in health and metabolism.
Symptoms of ketamine withdrawal may include:
- Mood swings
- Cognitive difficulties
- Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
These symptoms can be distressing and challenging to manage without proper support. Seeking professional detox treatment can increase the likelihood of successful recovery.
Find Ketamine Addiction Treatment
If you or someone you love struggles with ketamine misuse or other substance use disorder, you are not alone. Reach out to the New Jersey Addiction Interventions team now to explore our comprehensive addiction treatment programs or to get help during any stage of your recovery journey.
- National Library of Medicine: Ketamine, Retrieved August 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470357/
- National Library of Medicine: A Review of Nonanesthetic Uses of Ketamine, Retrieved August 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7152956/
- Harvard Health Publishing: Ketamine for treatment-resistant depression: When and where is it safe? Retrieved August 2023 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketamine-for-treatment-resistant-depression-when-and-where-is-it-safe-202208092797
- National Library of Medicine: Ketamine dependence, Retrieved August 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12075653/
Medically Reviewed: August 24, 2023
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.