Physical Effects of Ketamine Abuse


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Ketamine is a powerful dissociative anesthetic and is mostly used in veterinary medicine. In some rare cases, doctors have been using ketamine as a cutting edge treatment method for severe mental health disorders like treatment-resistant depression. But ketamine is a substance that is often abused and is sometimes used as a date-rape drug. People can become addicted to the effects of ketamine, and abusing the drug can cause many adverse side effects and other health issues. 

What is ketamine, and how do people abuse it?

In low and middle-income countries, ketamine is a popular anesthetic for surgeries and other health procedures that require anesthesia. The drug does not lower blood pressure or suppress breathing like other anesthetics, which means that medical facilities do not need to use expensive and complex monitoring equipment for surgery. 

In the U.S., ketamine is mostly used in veterinary practices as safe anesthesia for animals. Ketamine abuse is rare, and infrequently happens on a global scale, but long-term abuse can cause severe health consequences, such as urinary health problems. Because ketamine is so valuable for lower-income nations, the World Health Organization has urged that ketamine should be listed and prohibited under international drug control programs. 

People will abuse ketamine because it creates an intense, detached high, and gives users an otherworldly experience for a brief period. The drug can be taken in powder, capsule, or liquid form. On the street, ketamine is sometimes called Special K, K, or Vitamin K. 

The drug causes such potent dissociative effects that it is used as a date rape drug. People who take ketamine will experience intense hallucinations that include both visual and auditory disturbances. Users will also experience a dramatic reduction in physical sensations, and also experience temporary paralysis. Users will be awake, but unable to move or talk. 

Ketamine is similar to other hallucinogenic drugs like LSD or acid, in that the effects will vary significantly for each person who takes ketamine, and every dose of ketamine can produce a different outcome. The drug is highly unpredictable. Ketamine can sometimes create euphoria or a high, but users mostly take ketamine for the hallucinogenic effects. These hallucinations can vary from pleasant, dream-like experiences to frightening nightmares. Ketamine users call these hallucinogenic experiences the “K-hole.” 

While taking ketamine by itself won’t lower a person’s blood pressure or depress their respiratory rate, mixing ketamine with depressants like alcohol can increase the chances of overdose and death. Also, ketamine users can aspirate while high on the drug if they vomit or choke. The drug makes it impossible for someone to clear their airway if they use enough ketamine to become temporarily paralyzed. 

What are the long-term physical effects of ketamine abuse?

Long-term ketamine abuse can cause a range of adverse health consequences if users are unable to stop taking the drug. Mixing ketamine with other drugs or alcohol also intensifies and worsens health outcomes. Ketamine is known to affect many different bodily systems. The drug will cause severe, abdominal pain if someone abuses it both short and long-term. Also, people who abuse ketamine are at risk of tripping, falling, and getting severely injured while hallucinating on the drug. On ketamine, an otherwise minor injury can become quite dangerous. When a sober person feels pain, the pain tells them to stop what they are doing and address the source of the injury. Ketamine, however, prevents the user from registering any pain in the first place. They can exacerbate an injury while high on the drug. 

Ketamine will cause long-term damage to the urinary tract and the bladder, called ketamine bladder syndrome. This issue will decrease the bladder muscle’s strength and ability, which can cause incontinence in long-term ketamine abusers. The syndrome can also cause painful ulcers in the bladder, and users can bleed when they urinate. Other complications include anemia if ulcers cause continuous bleeding over a long period from ketamine abuse. 

It’s challenging for users to gauge how much ketamine they are getting in each dose. Also, ketamine purchased on the black market comes in a generic powder form in many cases. It’s impossible for someone to know what the ketamine is cut or laced with, and it could be something as innocent as table sugar, or something as dangerous as an industrial chemical. These additives can also worsen existing health issues or intensify ketamine’s destructive effects. In rare but tragic cases, a person can take white powder that they think is ketamine, only to overdose and die because the powder was something else like heroin, cocaine, or a mix of the two. 

Is there help for ketamine abuse?

People who abuse ketamine often need outside medical intervention from a rehab facility and drug abuse counselors. Ketamine users may require either an inpatient stay in a rehab center or intensive outpatient therapy for a set period. The severity of a person’s addiction, and if they are suffering from any adverse physical health issues from drug abuse can determine what treatment program is going to be the most beneficial for their situation and needs.  

Regardless of whether a patient stays in an inpatient center or attends an outpatient program, talk therapy is crucial to the treatment’s success. Talk therapies help the patient get to the root causes of their ketamine abuse. Patients, under the guidance of a trained therapist, can determine their triggers for drug use, and find useful and positive ways to avoid those triggers and prevent relapsing back into drug abuse and addiction. Patients may also benefit from additional family and group therapy.

Once the bulk of inpatient or outpatient treatment is completed, patients will need to transition to peer support groups and pre-schedule therapy to prevent a relapse. Drug addiction is a chronic condition that requires ongoing treatment and maintenance, but it is possible to recover and live a life free from substance abuse. 

If you suspect a loved one is abusing ketamine, please contact Windward Way today. Our therapists and trained drug abuse counselors can give you guidance on how to approach your loved one about seeking treatment. Representatives are standing by to answer your questions about insurance, availability, and the different types of treatment options we can provide for you and your family.