Some illicit drugs are sold on street corners by dealers who have little to no worries about the health and well-being of their customers. Instead, they’d like to make money, and they’ll do almost anything to hit their daily profit margins. There are some drugs, on the other hand, that move into the hands of users through people they consider their friends. Ketamine is one of these drugs. This powerful, hallucinogenic drug is illegal for recreational use in the United States, but most people who take this drug get it from their friends and acquaintances when they see them at clubs, raves or parties, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. It’s amazing, really, as this drug can be so damaging and so addictive that friends who hand out this drug may find, in time, that they have no friends left. All of them might be in rehab, struggling with a ketamine addiction.
Origins and Uses
Ketamine was developed in 1962, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, and it was soon approved for human use and moved into the surgery arena. The drug acts quickly, and it can produce a profound feeling of sedation, along with a lack of awareness of the physical world. In the surgery suite, this is a perfect set of symptoms. Hospital patients given this drug are unconscious, but they’re still breathing and they’re still responsive to touch, to some degree. Very delicate surgeries that require a bit of muscle movement and feedback just seem to work well with ketamine.
In time, veterinarians also found that the medication could help their clients during surgical procedures, and the drug became a go-to choice for many professionals who needed to work on patients with complex problems. Since ketamine is a controlled substance, both human and animal medicine providers are required to keep very detailed records of how much of the drug they have, and they’re required to keep the drug under lock and key. Even so, some people who work in these environments find it relatively easy to pinch a bottle or two while eluding detection, and they might give that drug to their friends or use it on their own.
Most medical facilities stock a liquid form of the drug, so they can drop the proper dose of the medication into the IV lines of surgical patients. Some illicit users of the drug use injection as well, but others pour the substance into tasty drinks. The drug is colorless, odorless and tasteless, so it’s remarkably easy to drink. Some users even lace the drinks of others with the drug, and these users might not even know they’re taking in anything unusual. Ketamine liquid can also be heated until it assumes a crystal format, and some users either snort or smoke this powder.
The effects of ketamine on people who are unaccustomed to the drug are dose dependent, meaning that people who take in small doses have a very different experience than people who load up on the drug. Recreational users often strive for the middle of the dosing curve, as low doses produce no sensation at all and high doses produce unconsciousness. In the middle, however, a user might feel:
- A sensation of floating
- Slowed or unusual thought processes
- Feelings of invincibility
- An increased ability to see color or hear unusual sounds
While some users might enjoy these experiences, the Partnership at Drugfree.org reports that some users experience such intense and persistent out-of-body experiences that they feel as though they might not survive the episode. Users seem unfazed by these episodes, however, and they may even make light of the experience by telling friends that they fell down the “K-hole.” It’s unclear if these people return to ketamine use, or if the episode is so frightening that it keeps them away from the drug in the future.
Risks of High Doses
While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that ketamine episodes tend to be brief, lasting only about 30 minutes if injected or one to two hours if taken orally, a significant amount of terrible consequences can take place during this time. For example, ketamine has been associated with sexual assaults. Lacing a drink with a large dose of ketamine could render the victim of the assault unconscious and unable to fight back. The amnesiac capabilities of the drug could also ensure that the victim couldn’t name who had done the act. Young women who go to crowded parties and accept drinks from strangers might have the greatest risk of enduring an episode like this, but almost anyone could fall prey. Even people who choose to take the drug voluntarily could experience very terrible side effects from this drug. In the Journal of Emergency Medicine, researchers outlined just some of the symptoms they’d seen in people who had taken ketamine on a recreational basis, and those symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Irregular or fast heart beat
- Fast, unusual eye movements
- Breakdown of muscle tissue
People who take ketamine recreationally often report strong cravings for the drug, and since the drug tends to wear off rather quickly, they may take repeated doses on the same night, one after the other. With each dose, small damage to the cells could take place, and the brain might begin to amend its responses to the drug in order to keep its functions moving forward as they should. If users don’t stop their abuse, the brain can become accustomed to the presence of the drug, and it may not react so intensely the next time the drug is present. In fact, the brain might not function as it should unless the drug is present. This could lead to compulsive use, otherwise known as addiction.At this point, very little is known about how ketamine works inside the brain, and as a result, it’s hard to know how addictive the drug might be. Some people seem to have an inability to control how much of the drug they take, and these people may also report feeling terrible without access to the drug, but much more research should be done before experts can determine just how much ketamine must be taken before the damage could lead to an addiction. Hopefully, this work will be completed in the near future. In the interim, it’s safe to say that the drug is an addictive drug of concern for most experts.
Other Health Issues
In addition to the concerns mentioned above, the use and abuse of ketamine has also been associated with some very serious health conditions that may or may not be reversible with treatment. For example, research suggests that ketamine can be toxic to the bladder of people who take it. Researchers writing in the Hong Kong Medical Journal described the cases of 10 people who came to hospitals in the area with serious symptoms of illness in the lower urinary tract. These people had very constricted bladders that just couldn’t hold waste, and their kidneys were put into distress as a result. Other studies have described people who developed a condition known as ulcerative cystitis due to their ketamine abuse. This is an intensely painful condition that causes intense inflammation along with an intense need to urinate, and blood might be found in the urine.
Researchers aren’t sure why this drug seems to be so toxic to the kidneys and the body’s waste removal systems, but it certainly seems to be a problem for a great number of users. Sometimes, the kidneys and bladder heal when the ketamine abuse stops, but in some cases, the damage is much too intense and people need to rely on medical assistance for the rest of their lives.
Additionally, at least one study suggests that people who abuse ketamine can develop movement disorders. Here, in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, researchers describe the case of a 20-year-old man who developed a movement disorder known as dystonia after recreational ketamine use. Dystonia can be incredibly painful, as it can cause the muscles to contract involuntarily. People with this condition may be bent in unusual ways or contorted into painful positions for hours, without the ability to correct the issue. This man’s problem abated with medication, but since the mechanism that caused the problem is unknown, it’s possible that the issue could impact other people who choose to use and abuse ketamine.
What to Do
It’s difficult to obtain definitive proof that someone is using or abusing ketamine, since the effects wear off so quickly and users tend to take the drug while they’re at parties or otherwise outside of the home. People who are addicted, however, might have vials of drugs hidden in their rooms or in their backpacks or purses. Finding a vial like this might be frightening, but it could provide a family with the proof needed to confront the person about the addiction.
In a calm and collected manner, families can discuss the addiction with the person they love, and they can point out all of the ways in which a treatment program can provide meaningful help. This is commonly called an intervention, and it can be an amazing help for an addicted person. The intervention allows the person to understand that the family has noticed the problem, and that there are solutions available that can help. Even so, the mere thought of holding a talk like this can fill some families with fear, and they may worry that they’ll say something inappropriate or do something unusual that will drive the person back into ketamine abuse. An interventionist may be able to help.
An interventionist is a skilled mental health professional who has training in holding these tough talks. Some interventionists use traditional surprise methods, allowing the family to prepare a talk in advance and speak out when the addicted person is least expecting the talk. Other interventionists use open methods that allow the ketamine abuser to learn about the addiction right alongside the family. Either method could be helpful for someone who is trapped in a cycle of addiction and sees no way out.
At Axis, we can help you find an interventionist that’s right for you and your family. We can also provide you with information about our treatment program and get the enrollment process started. That way, when the intervention is over, the person you love can come right to our facility and get started on the healing process. We can even work with your insurance company to make sure payment issues are handled in advance. Please call us to get the process started.