ketamineKetamine is a prescription dissociative anesthetic drug, used before certain medical procedures so that the patient will not feel pain. It is used more in veterinary medicine today than it is in human medicine and is also used illegally by many as a recreational drug. As a pharmaceutical, ketamine is sold as Ketaset, Ketalar, and Ketanest, and illegally as cat valium, ketamine, K, or special k.


Ketamine was developed in the 1960s as an alternative to phencyclidine, also known as PCP or angel dust. PCP was created by the Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Company in Detroit in the 1920s and was used as an anesthetic. It was only used for a few years before it became apparent that the adverse side effects, mania, disorientation, hallucinations, and delirium, were too severe.

Ketamine replaced PCP as an anesthetic. It wore off more quickly than PCP and had less severe negative side effects. Because of the dissociative state produced by ketamine, it soon was abused as an illegal, recreational drug. It became very popular in the 1990s as a party drug and is still abused today.

How it Works

Because of its hallucinatory side effects, ketamine is not usually the first choice of an anesthetic for human patients. It is used in certain situations such as in emergency medicine, in pediatrics, for asthmatics, and as a supplement to other anesthetics. Unlike other anesthetics, ketamine does not suppress breathing, so there are reasons to use it, in spite of its side effects.

Ketamine acts on the central nervous system by binding to a receptor called the NMDA receptor. This prevents sensation in certain neurons, resulting in a blocking of pain signals to the spinal cord. It also stops the formation of a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, which helps with pain perception. Additionally, ketamine binds to several other receptors producing the more minor effects of the drug. These effects result from action in the cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems.

Side Effects

The medical reason for using ketamine is to produce analgesia, however, the drug has many other effects on the body. In the short term, most people on ketamine will experience several of the following effects:

  • Erythema, or a reddening of the skin
  • Delirium
  • Blurred vision, double vision, and involuntary eye movement
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Changes in hearing

Ketamine also causes several neurological and psychotic effects in the short term:

  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Speaking impairment
  • Lack of emotional reaction
  • Slowing down of thought processes and physical movements
  • Impaired memory, judgment, and attention

With major use, ketamine can cause permanent and devastating harm to the body and the psyche. Chronic users often develop memory problems and depression, as well as damage to the urinary tract. The latter can include chronic infections in the bladder, incontinence, decreased volume in the bladder, and painful urination. Brain damage has also been recorded in lab animals given high doses of ketamine.

Overdosing is not common with ketamine. Amounts that are smaller than what is used in a surgical setting are capable of producing the high that many illicit users are after. It is likely that a user will pass out long before they can take enough for an overdose.

Using Ketamine Recreationally

In medicine, ketamine is typically injected as a liquid solution. When used illegally, however, it is usually in powder or pill form. Most illegal ketamine is acquired by stealing veterinary or medical supplies of the drug. To get the powder, the liquid is evaporated off, leaving the solid ketamine behind. This can then be snorted or formed into a pill that is swallowed.

Ketamine is odorless and tasteless, which makes it very dangerous. It has been known to be used as a date rape drug because it can be dissolved into a drink and the victim will not experience a strange taste or smell. Ketamine in pill form is also often labeled as ecstasy. Both are considered party drugs and users sometimes don’t realize which drug they are taking.

If Someone You Know is Using Ketamine

While the possibility of overdosing from ketamine is narrow, there are other dangers to consider. If anyone you know is using ketamine recreationally, inform them of the hazards of this drug. At high doses, ketamine can make the user nearly physically incapacitated. It can be dangerous to be in this state if someone is not looking out for the user. Even at lower doses, the user’s dissociated state can leave him unable to care for himself.

Addiction is very possible with ketamine, as with most drugs. Users can build up a tolerance to the substance and start to use more and more to achieve the same high. Another danger is mixing ketamine with sedatives and depressants like alcohol, opioids, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. The combination of alcohol with ketamine can make the user very sick to her stomach. Combined with the dissociation and physical incapacitation, there is a very real chance of choking on vomit.

Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.

Call our experts today.