Ketamine and Its Mechanism of Action
Ketamine belongs to a class of drugs that blocks sensory perception known as dissociative anesthetics. It was first introduced to the market in the 1970s and was mainly used in human and veterinary medicine. By the late 1970s, ketamine had made rounds in the recreational drug markets. It became available in variable forms—crushed powder, tablets, and liquid injectable form. Users either ingest, snort, smoke, or inject it intravenously or intramuscularly. Sometimes, it’s even taken along with marijuana.In the United States, under the DEA Controlled Substances Act, ketamine is classified as a Schedule III drug. It’s not considered a narcotic (opioid) or barbiturate.Ketamine affects multiple pathways and receptors in the brain and body. So aside from its anesthetic effect, ketamine is making waves as a fast-acting antidepressant. Studies have shown that it can ease depression in a matter of hours. In animal studies, ketamine achieves this effect by rewiring the brain and stimulating the growth of synapses—the part of the brain that connects neurons.In addition, ketamine interacts with these other receptors:
- N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors
- Monoaminergic receptors
- Opioid receptors
- Voltage-sensitive Ca ion channels
- Muscarinic receptor
Street Names of Ketamine
With its widespread use in recreational drug circles, ketamine has become known by various names. Common street names of ketamine include:
- Cat Valium
- Honey Oil
- Green K
- Kit Kat
- Special K
- Vitamin K
- Super K
- Super Acid
- Special La Coke
How Fast Does Ketamine Work?
Ketamine is a fast-acting anesthetic, and its time of efficacy largely depends on the method of administration. When given intravenously (IV), the onset of action is as fast as a few seconds. Intramuscular (IM) injection takes 4 minutes to feel its effect, and it could last for 15-30 minutes.Snorting is the most common method for those who use the drug illicitly. It would take an average of 5-15 minutes for the drug to take effect. Ingesting a ketamine tablet would take 5-30 minutes for the user to feel its effects. Those who abuse ketamine will experience distorted perception for 1-2 hours. But some of its other effects may drag on for as long as 24 hours or longer.
Adverse Effects of Ketamine and Its Health Hazards
In smaller doses, as with most recreational drug users, ketamine users will experience the following side effects of this drug:
- Pain relief
- Calmness and relaxation
- Diminished reflexes
- Slurred speech
- Short-term hallucination
- Involuntary, repetitive, and rapid eye movement (nystagmus)
When a higher dose is ingested as with drug addicts, grave and intense side effects ensue. The most common are:
- Severe hallucinogenic experience similar to that of a psychedelic trip caused by LSD
- Schizophrenic-like behavior
- Loss of consciousness
Aside from these, ketamine abuse may take a toll on a person’s health. Immediate health issues that could arise because of ketamine use include:
- Low respiratory rate
- High blood pressure
- Memory loss
- Learning and attention deficit
Extended use of ketamine could also lead to serious health issues like:
- Kidney problems
- Bladder problem
Abusing ketamine using its injectable form also increases the risk of hepatitis, HIV, and other blood-borne illnesses due to shared needles. The gravity and intensity of side effects are directly correlated to the dose of ketamine consumed.
Signs of Ketamine Abuse and Addiction
Most ketamine addictions started off as recreational use of this seemingly harmless party drug. Here are common behaviors of people who use this drug recreationally:
- Mood swings
- Impaired judgment
- Inability to feel pain
Prolonged use of this drug builds tolerance. This leads to users increasing the dosage of ketamine or using the injectable form of the drug to achieve the same feeling of euphoria. This gradual increase of dosage and drug usage soon spirals out of control and leads to ketamine addiction. People who are addicted to this drug manifest these common behaviors:
- Lack of control over drug usage
- Conflicts with family members and other close relationships
- Intense desire to take the drug
- Ignoring responsibilities and schedules
- Too much effort procuring the drug
- Inability to stop using ketamine
A person who is addicted to this substance will barely listen to reason even when their drug usage is taking a toll on their family life and career. Denial and anger is their default response whenever concerned people around them confront them with their unhealthy habits.
Ketamine and Alcohol
Because ketamine is widely popular as a party drug, those who abuse ketamine are more likely to mix it with alcohol use. This combination can be fatal. Although alcohol and ketamine affect different neurotransmitter pathways in the brain, both have inhibitory effects on brain signals. This could lead to amplified physiological effects when both substances are used. Here are the common effects of mixing alcohol and ketamine in the body.
Both alcohol and ketamine have cognitive effects. When taken together, it can lead to a severe decline in a person’s mental faculties. It can be hard to communicate and move properly. This is why ketamine is a notorious date rape drug.
Ketamine has been known to cause a host of lower urinary tract issues. Collectively, these issues are known as ketamine bladder syndrome. In severe cases, urinary tract damage can be permanent.Drinking alcohol with ketamine could exacerbate the problem even more. According to research by Global Drug Survey, people are more likely to experience bladder issues when they consume ketamine along with alcohol. They report symptoms like:
- Frequent urination
- Pain when urinating
- Blood in the urine
Both ketamine and alcohol, taken singly, can cause slowed breathing. When consumed together, the effect will be more intense. With higher doses of both substances, a person could stop breathing (apnea). Prolonged lack of oxygenation (more than 5 minutes) to different organs in the body due to apnea could lead to irreversible organ damage, especially in the brain.People with slowed breathing typically experience confusion and tiredness. It can also lead to loss of consciousness. And when a person vomits while passing out, there’s a real risk of choking.
Ketamine has been known for its adverse effects on the cardiovascular system. Taken with alcohol, the risk for cardiovascular problems is amplified. Common cardiovascular issues linked to ketamine and alcohol use include:
- Chest pain
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
At higher doses, alcohol and ketamine could cause cardiac arrest and or stroke.
What Is Ketamine Withdrawal?
When a ketamine user has become tolerant, they may increase the dose to experience the same effects as it once did. This habit will inevitably culminate in drug addiction if there’s no timely intervention. When an addict attempts to stop using this substance, symptoms of withdrawal will likely set in.Ketamine withdrawal symptoms are psychological in nature. Here are some withdrawal symptoms to look out for:
- Loss of motor skills
- Cognitive impairment
- Declining respiratory and cardiac functions
Because of emotional instability, a person undergoing withdrawal could be a danger to others. Therefore, isolating the person and having trained professionals oversee the withdrawal and detoxification process is recommended.
Withdrawal can last from 72 hours to weeks. The duration depends on these factors:
- Drug dosage
- How long they have been using the drug
- Drug tolerance level
- Combined with other substances
- Body mass
Typically, the user will experience withdrawal symptoms 24 hours after the last dose of ketamine. Acute symptoms will continue until the third day. By day 4, the symptoms will taper off and will continue until the 14th day. By day 15, the symptoms will stabilize. But in severe cases, some psychological symptoms may persist, and in extreme cases, brain damage may be irreversible.
Ketamine Drug Test
While the body can eliminate ketamine relatively quickly (within 1-3 days from the last dose), special drug tests can still detect the substance for up to a few weeks or months.
- Blood test: Approximately 24 hours after the last dose
- Urine test: Up to 2 weeks after the last dose
- Hair test: Months after the last dose
Ketamine is relatively safe when given under the supervision of a physician. The risk of overdose mostly comes with the illicit use of this drug. Those who abuse ketamine most likely consume the substance without a thought about proper dosage. People who overdose on ketamine will exhibit the following symptoms and behaviors:
- Psychotic behaviors like hallucination and paranoia
- Gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Slowed breathing
- Uncoordinated movements
- Intense pain (i.e. muscle aches, headaches)
- Atypical behavior (i.e. a person who usually feels euphoric after taking ketamine may become angry and unstable)
- Loss of consciousness
A person who overdoses on ketamine must receive prompt medical attention before brain damage becomes more severe. There’s no single antidote to treat ketamine overdose. Intervention is typically focused on treating or managing symptoms of overdose. For instance, if the patient’s breathing has slowed, the doctor may place them on a ventilator or prescribe medications to improve respiration.
Other Causes of Overdose
Aside from addiction, there are other situations that put people at risk of overdosing on ketamine. Here are some instances to look out for:
- Mislabeled drug: No proper label, dose, and instruction is common when the substance is procured from shady sources.
- Kidney or urinary tract issue: People with medical conditions in their kidney or urinary tract may have a hard time eliminating ketamine from their system.
- Mixing with other substances: If it is mixed with other substances like alcohol or benzodiazepines, there’s a high risk of an overdose.
Ketamine Addiction Treatment
Addiction is hard to overcome. Ketamine can alter the way the brain works, so it takes more than sheer willpower to break the habit of using it when the desire strikes. That’s why it’s vital to seek the help of a team of trained professionals to help with recovery. Treatment typically starts with a proper assessment of the patient. At this point, the team will determine the severity of the addiction and design a treatment plan that’s suitable for the individual. After the assessment, the detoxification process is next in order. This process aims to get rid of all the drugs from the body. Withdrawal symptoms are the main challenge here. But being medically supervised in a treatment center makes the process safer and more bearable.
To give the patient better chances of recovery, it’s important to go beyond detoxification and address the root cause of the addiction. This is the purpose of therapy. Here are types of therapy that the patient may have to go through.Individual Therapy Patients will spend one-on-one sessions with a therapist where they can express their deepest thoughts in a safe space. The therapist will employ different approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical, contingency management, and motivational interviewing therapy. Group Therapy Group therapy provides the patient with a safe space to engage in social interaction. The group will be a support system where the patient can be accountable to and learn coping mechanisms from people who understand what they are going through.Family Therapy Addiction doesn’t just affect an individual, it also affects the family. Thus, it’s vital to involve the family in the process of recovery. After all, the love and support of loved ones increase the likelihood of recovery for the patient.12-Step Therapy Alcoholics Anonymous created the famous 12-step program to overcome addiction. This community-based therapy focuses on yielding addiction to a Higher Power.Other Non-Traditional Therapy Therapists may also employ one or a combination of non-traditional therapies in addition to traditional ones. Common non-traditional therapies include:
- Art therapy
- Nature therapy
- Music therapy
Find Help and Long-Lasting Health
Are you or someone you love struggling with ketamine addiction? Windward Way Recovery can help. We have a team of seasoned professionals that are trained in treating addiction.You can call us at (855) 491-7694 for an assessment. We look forward to being part of your or your loved one’s recovery.