Substance Use

Physical Effects of Ketamine Abuse

TABLE OF CONTENTSTable of Contents

woman sitting on the floor with head in hands

Ketamine is a powerful dissociative anesthetic. It has roots as an effective drug used in veterinary medicine. More recently, ketamine has been positively used as a cutting-edge treatment for mental health issues such as treatment-resistant depression and PTSD.

Unfortunately, ketamine has seen a significant increase as a commonly abused recreational drug. It has gained popularity as a “date rape drug” due to its paralytic properties. With frequent or prolonged, non-medically supervised use, the physical effect of ketamine can lead to a strong addiction. If you think you or someone you love may be experiencing ketamine addiction, please reach out to us at (855) 430-9439 and let us help you. 

What is ketamine, and how can it lead to addiction?

In addition to being widely used in veterinary medicine in North America and low- and middle-income countries, ketamine is a popular surgical anesthetic. It has become a popular option because it doesn’t lower blood pressure or suppress breathing like other anesthetics. As such, medical facilities in these countries don’t need expensive anesthetic equipment for surgery. Because ketamine has become such a valuable drug in lower-income nations, the World Health Organization called for it to be listed and prohibited under international drug control programs. 

In the U.S., ketamine is primarily used as a pre-anesthetic medication in veterinary practices. It’s a safe option for veterinary applications when trained professionals use it in this setting.

You may find you seek the physical effect of ketamine because of the intense, detached, otherworldly high it can create. You might also experience strong hallucinations. These include visual and auditory disturbances, a dramatic reduction in physical sensations, and temporary paralysis, which means you’ll be awake but unable to move or talk.

While ketamine is a less commonly abused drug than methamphetamines or heroin, it can still cause severe mental and physical health consequences, including memory problems or urinary disorders. 

What forms does ketamine come in, and how is it commonly taken?

When ketamine is packaged at the manufacturer, it’s placed in vials containing liquid or a powder intended to be mixed with sterile saline for injection. The most common forms of ketamine found outside of medical facilities are:

  • Liquid 
  • Powder

Powdered ketamine can be snorted or smoked. It’s not uncommon for it to also be “cut” with cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamines, or amphetamines, making it even more dangerous. The liquid form can be injected or mixed into beverages, the latter often being undetectable when masked with the flavor of strong liquors. The physical effect of ketamine causes such potent dissociative and paralytic symptoms that it’s becoming more commonly used as a date rape drug.

You may know ketamine as Special K, Kat Valium, Kit Kat, Purple, K, or Vitamin K. There are other common street names, and these can vary somewhat by region. Overcoming addiction to potentially dangerous drugs is critical and requires taking the first steps to recovery.

Why can ketamine be so dangerous?

The impact of ketamine is similar to other hallucinogenic drugs like LSD or acid because the physical effect of ketamine vary significantly from person to person. You can ingest the same batch of ketamine as someone else, but your experiences can be completely different. Regardless of how many times taken, ketamine can still produce a different outcome each time it’s abused. This makes it highly unpredictable and, at times, dangerous to use.

Ketamine can sometimes create euphoria or a high, but it’s mainly taken for the hallucinogenic effects it produces. These hallucinations can vary from pleasant, dreamy experiences to terrifying nightmare-like trips. These unpleasant, frightening hallucinogenic experiences are referred to as a “K-hole.”

Taking ketamine by itself won’t lower your blood pressure or depress your respiratory rate. However, mixing ketamine with depressants like alcohol can increase the chances of overdose and death. Also, it’s possible to aspirate while high on the drug if you vomit or choke. Ketamine makes it impossible to clear your airway by coughing if you use enough of it to achieve temporary paralysis. This may lead to suffocation or aspiration pneumonia.

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

Long-term ketamine abuse can cause a range of adverse health consequences if you can’t stop taking the drug. Mixing ketamine with other drugs or alcohol also intensifies the effects and contributes to even more negative health outcomes. The physical effect of ketamine is known to have an adverse impact on many different bodily systems, particularly the urinary tract and its associated organs. It’s not uncommon for ketamine to cause severe abdominal pain if abused, either short-term or long-term.

It’s important to note that if you’re a ketamine user, you’re at higher risk of tripping, falling, and being severely injured while hallucinating on the drug. One of the reasons becoming injured on ketamine can be so dangerous is due to a lack of sensation; your nervous system won’t register pain efficiently. When a sober person feels pain, the pain sends signals to the brain that indicate they need to stop what they’re doing and address the source of the injury. However, Ketamine will prevent you from registering any pain or discomfort in the first place, either causing you to sustain a new injury or exacerbating an existing one. 

Ketamine can cause long-term damage to the urinary tract and the bladder and even has its own name, now dubbed “Ketamine Bladder Syndrome.” This issue will decrease the bladder muscle’s strength and ability to hold urine, which can cause incontinence in long-term ketamine abusers. The syndrome can also cause painful ulcers in the bladder, so you may find blood when you urinate. Other complications include anemia if ulcers cause continuous bleeding over a long period from ketamine abuse. 

It’s challenging to gauge how much ketamine you may be ingesting in each dose. Also, ketamine purchased on the black market comes in a generic powder form in many cases. Because of this, you won’t know what the ketamine is cut or laced with. 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, people have been known to take a white powder that they mistakenly think is ketamine, only to overdose and die because it was something else like heroin, cocaine, or a mix of the two. 

Another more recent risk that comes with ketamine abuse is the possibility of receiving drugs that have been laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is an opioid with a significantly higher potency than morphine. It has become a common additive in “club drugs” over the last few years. Unfortunately, because it’s so potent, the risk of overdosing is exponentially higher, even with tiny amounts. This has led to an increase in overdose death rates amongst drug users worldwide. 

What happens if I quit taking ketamine “cold turkey”?

Unlike some drugs, there isn’t a major physical effect of ketamine withdrawal. Psychological effects are more common and include:

  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Craving for ketamine
  • Paranoia
  • Palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Shaking
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Chills

Is there help for ketamine abuse?

The severity of the addiction and whether you suffer from any adverse physical health issues from drug abuse can determine what treatment program will most benefit your situation and needs. If you suspect you’re abusing ketamine and are suffering from the physical effect of ketamine, you probably need outside medical intervention from a rehab facility and experienced drug abuse counselors. Many times, ketamine users find the most effective treatment to be an inpatient stay in a rehab center or intensive outpatient therapy for a set period to undergo drug detox.  

Whether you choose to seek treatment from an inpatient center or attend an outpatient program, talk therapy is crucial to the treatment’s success. Talk therapies will help you get to the root causes of your ketamine abuse while developing healthy coping skills. Under the guidance of a trained therapist, you can better determine your triggers for drug use and find useful and positive ways to avoid those triggers, preventing relapse into old drug abuse and addiction patterns. You may also benefit from additional family and group therapy.

Once most inpatient or outpatient treatment is completed, you’ll need to transition to peer support groups and pre-schedule therapy to prevent a relapse. Like any long-term health condition, drug addiction is a chronic condition that requires ongoing treatment and maintenance, but it’s possible to recover and live a life free from substance abuse. 

If you or a loved one is abusing ketamine, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Zinnia Healing today. Our doctors, therapists, and trained drug abuse counselors can guide you as you make decisions about seeking treatment. Compassionate, experienced staff 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. Call (855) 430-9439 or use the chat feature on our website to reach someone today.