What Is Ketamine?

What Is Ketamine? – Ketamine (Special K) is a prescription drug that is classified as an anesthetic and has psychedelic properties. It can alter the senses, and induce feelings of detachment from oneself and the external world. For these reasons, it is commonly abused.

Clinically, ketamine can be used as anesthesia before surgery on humans or animals. It is typically found in white powder form or as a clear liquid. Esketamine (brand names Ketanest and Spravato) is a substance contained within ketamine (an s-enationmer) that was approved by the Food & Drug Administration in 2019 for use in persons who suffer from treatment-resistant depression.

When used for recreational purposes, ketamine is frequently injected, although the powdered form can also be snorted or consumed orally. The drug is also sometimes combined with other substances to intensify effects, including alcohol, marijuana, and opiates. There is scant evidence to suggest that ketamine has the potential for chemical dependence. However, some chronic users can develop a psychological dependence and experience cravings for the drug if they attempt to discontinue use.

Their tolerance will also increase, causing them to need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. The development of tolerance can compel individuals to use increasing amounts of ketamine, encourage drug-seeking behavior and binges. A binge is a pattern of abuse in which the user engages in repeated, heavy drug use during a relatively short period.

From a psychological perspective, ketamine withdrawal is comparable to withdrawal from other addictive drugs, such as cocaine, and can produce intense cravings. Psychological withdrawal symptoms are common with ketamine, but physiological symptoms are minimal to non-existent.

Short and Long-Term Effects of Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine typically induces a sudden high that lasts for about an hour. Unlike the other well-known dissociatives such as phencyclidine (PCP) and dextromethorphan (DXM), ketamine is very short-acting. An injection can produce a high in under one minute, and snorting or smoking it can result in a high in less than 5 minutes.

Users report initially feeling an overwhelming sense of relaxation as if they are floating or having an out-of-body experience. Hallucinations can also occur and persist beyond the relaxation phase.

As with any intoxicant, high doses tend to result in more intense effects, which users often as being similar to near-death experiences. This overall effect is sometimes referred to as a “K-hole” and can include unpleasant auditory and visual hallucinations in conjunction with derealization and detachment from reality.

Side Effects of Ketamine

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Stomach pain
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

Because ketamine reduces the perception of pain, a user can accidentally injure him or herself. These injuries can be exacerbated if the user fails to seek medical treatment and may result in complications.

Long-Term Effects of Ketamine Abuse

Long-term effects of ketamine abuse are not wholly understood, especially since ketamine is often used in combination with other substances. However, there is some evidence that prolonged use can cause a thickening of the bladder and urinary tract, and chronic users may be forced to have their bladders removed when they experience difficulty passing urine. As with many substances, ketamine abuse can also lead to kidney problems.


If you suspect that you or someone you know is overdosing, emergency medical attention should be sought immediately. Overdoses are typically treated with symptomatic and supportive care in a hospital environment, and adverse effects typically resolve in 1 to 3 hours.

Respiratory support is rarely needed, but additional ventilation or supplemental oxygen may be required. Respiratory depression is more likely to occur if ketamine is combined with sedatives or other depressants.

Managing Withdrawal

Managing Withdrawal

Psychological withdrawal symptoms that manifest as a result of long-term or frequent use of ketamine can often be controlled by a progressive tapering of the drug dosage, as directed by a health provider over the course of a few weeks. Using this method, the person’s system can slowly adapt to receiving decreasing amounts of the drug, and psychological withdrawal symptoms will be minimized in comparison to abrupt discontinuation.

Treatment for Drug Abuse

After detox, counseling and therapy are highly recommended for recovery from ketamine abuse. Harmony Recovery Center offers these treatments in partial-hospitalization and intensive outpatient formats. Most ketamine abusers also suffer from polysubstance abuse or co-occurring mental health conditions, and treatment is designed to address these issues in combination with abuse of ketamine itself.

Clients who choose to undergo treatment will learn the critical coping skills they will need to manage drug cravings, prevent relapse, and sustain long-term sobriety. They also gain insight into the reasons why they choose to engage in substance abuse in the first place, and receive help for co-occurring mental health disorders, if any.

Ketamine is an intoxicating and potentially psychologically addictive drug that can lead to severe mental distress and intense cravings upon abrupt cessation. If you or someone you love is abusing this substance, please contact us today for a consultation and to discuss treatment options. You don’t have to do this alone – we can help!

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