Health Effects of Ketamine Abuse


Health Effects of Ketamine Abuse

Health Effects of Ketamine AbuseKetamine (ketamine hydrochloride) is a member of a group of drugs known collectively as dissociative anesthetics. Anesthetics of this type achieve their effects by temporarily separating basic functions in the brain that normally work in a coordinated manner, including perception, physical sensation, emotions, motor control and memory. Veterinarians use ketamine more frequently than doctors, but doctors sometimes use the drug to produce general anesthesia in people with certain serious health problems, as well as in children. Drug abusers sometimes use ketamine as a “club drug” at parties or in other social or private settings. This type of unsanctioned, illegal use comes with risks for a number of significant, serious, or even potentially fatal health effects.

The Basics

Slang terms for ketamine include Super K, Special K, Vitamin K and K. The drug comes in forms that include powders and liquids; routes of use for powdered forms of ketamine include inhalation (snorting) and ingestion, while routes of use for liquid forms include muscle injection and ingestion. Whatever the method of entry, the drug produces varying degrees of brain dissociation by activating areas on brain cells known as NMDA or glutamate receptors.

Any use of ketamine outside of a doctor’s care and supervision constitutes a form of drug abuse. When relatively small doses of the drug are abused, potential effects of dissociation include arm and leg numbness, a floating sensation and minor “out-of-body” sensations. In people who abuse relatively large doses of the drug, potential effects of brain dissociation include hallucinations and stronger out-of-body sensations. Depending on the method of use, ketamine-related dissociation takes effect in anywhere from roughly four to 20 minutes; once it begins, dissociation lasts anywhere from roughly 30 minutes to two hours.

Psychological Effects

When snorted or swallowed in doses of approximately 100 mg or higher, ketamine can produce a form of profound out-of-body dissociation known in the drug subculture as a “K-hole.” To many users, a K-hole experience closely resembles the process of dying, and potential psychological consequences of this state include extreme levels of fear or terror. Injected ketamine can produce the same results at much lower doses.

High levels of ketamine intake can also produce delirious mental states and a form of amnesia. Even at lower levels of intake, the dissociated consciousness that comes with ketamine use can eventually trigger pre-existing tendencies toward serious mental illness or help lay the groundwork for previously non-existing mental health risks. Other related mental or psychological problems can include depression, thought impairment, and unusual irritability or agitation. In addition, chronic ketamine use can lead to psychological dependence on the drug, as well as the types of ongoing drug cravings that signify the onset of full-blown addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, chronic ketamine abusers can also develop a pattern of drug binging that closely resembles the binging behaviors found in people who chronically abuse amphetamines and/or cocaine.

Physical Effects

When taken in relatively low doses, ketamine can produce significant increases in your normal heart rate. At higher doses, the drug can depress normal function in the central nervous system and seriously slow down your breathing rate, in addition to decreasing your ability to stay conscious. High doses of ketamine can also produce a state of extreme body unresponsiveness that closely resembles catatonia; people in this state typically can’t respond to any form of external stimulation. In addition to profoundly unresponsive muscles, other common symptoms of this catatonia-like state include unusually high saliva production, uncontrolled tear production, pupil dilation, and darting, uncontrolled eye movements.

A potentially fatal ketamine overdose can occur when central nervous system suppression grows strong enough to interrupt the natural breathing reflex and trigger unconsciousness. The chances for experiencing an overdose increase greatly when ketamine use is combined with the use of other substances-such as opioids, alcohol or the club drug GHB-that also produce central nervous system suppression.

Additional Considerations

Ketamine belongs to the same group of drugs as PCP (phencyclidine), a substance known for its ability to produce extreme and unpredictable forms of mental derangement. In some respects, the effects of ketamine resemble the effects of hallucinogens such as mescaline and LSD; in other respects, the effects of the drug resemble the effects of GHB and another common club drug called Rohypnol. Club drugs are also sometimes known as “date rape” drugs, because people under their influence commonly experience loss of normal body control and a diminished ability to resist the unwanted physical advances of others. Like users of Rohypnol and GHB, ketamine users can inadvertently expose themselves to aggressive or violent behavior in both public and private settings.

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