Substance Use

Ketamine Withdrawal

vial with clear ketamine liquid and needle

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Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment Options

Ketamine is an anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects. When taking this drug, you feel disconnected, and your perceptions of sound and sight become distorted. This drug is used in medical settings as well as for recreational purposes. When used clinically, it is ideal because it creates a trance-like state in patients, producing pain relief that doesn’t slow breathing, which is common among other anesthetics. On the street, ketamine is referred to as Special K and has effects similar to PCP

Quitting any drug can be challenging once dependence develops. Most drugs of abuse create withdrawal symptoms that hinder one’s ability to stop using, but ketamine is relatively unique. Ketamine withdrawal is not overly common compared to other substances, like opiates and alcohol. Prominent physical withdrawal symptoms are not experienced by many users, even though they often develop significant tolerance.

With ketamine withdrawal, the greatest concern is psychological variables and the combination of other substances. If you often mix substances of abuse, this can make the ketamine withdrawal process more complicated. 

If you have been struggling with ketamine use and other substances of abuse, it’s vital to seek the help you need to ensure a safe, comfortable withdrawal period. From there, you can begin a recovery program, like those offered at Zinnia Health, that helps you overcome any underlying mental health conditions.

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How is Ketamine Abused?

Ketamine abuse has been reported, typically among users who abuse multiple drugs. Although not always, these users also often have some contact with medical agencies — depending on the form that is abused. For example, ketamine is manufactured commercially in powdered and liquid form.

However, illicit ketamine is also often formed from pharmaceutical ketamine using a process that creates crystals from a liquid. Once ground into powder, it is often cut with other drugs, including cocaine, MDMA, or methamphetamine. These circumstances can be frightening and dangerous if a user is unaware. 

Although ketamine abuse is generally associated with street drug users, most often being sold as a popular “club drug,” ketamine misuse among some medical professionals also is a cause for concern.

Ketamine is highly accessible to medical professionals such as anesthesiologists. However, this only occurs in isolated incidents, as outlined in this case study. When someone in the medical field has a history of substance abuse and proximity to drugs, including ketamine, these variables can trigger use. 

This case study, where ketamine dependence developed in an anesthesiologist, shows that ketamine use is not isolated to a particular group, just as substance use disorder does not discriminate. Anyone can be affected by addiction. 

What Are the Symptoms of Ketamine Withdrawal?

If you excessively abuse ketamine, this can lead to psychological dependence. For some, this can be more challenging to overcome than the initial physical withdrawal symptoms associated with other drugs of abuse.

Some users become dependent on their ability to escape. In some cases, this is because of ongoing issues within their life, which is why structured help is so important. Completing the ketamine withdrawal process is the first step of many. 

So, what can you expect from the ketamine withdrawal process?

Research is currently limited, as there isn’t much evidence indicating physical dependence among ketamine users. The issue is that users build a tolerance, taking more and more ketamine to achieve the same effect. Chasing this high is what gives rise to ketamine misuse. 

During the withdrawal process, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Agitation, irritability, and potential rage 
  • Confusion and cognitive impairment 
  • Nausea 
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in sleep
  • Cravings
  • Fatigue 
  • Psychosis, including possible hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia

Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that the most common ketamine withdrawal symptoms in humans include:

  • Excessive sleep
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Increased appetite

Ketamine withdrawal is not typically life-threatening. However, the withdrawal process can become dangerous if you combine several substances of abuse or if you have a pre-existing health condition. Ketamine withdrawal may also be dangerous if you have a severe mental health disorder, as psychological withdrawal symptoms can hinder your ability to think clearly. For some, this may lead to increased suicide risk

Like all drugs of abuse, the withdrawal process is highly individualized. Since there are so many potential variables, withdrawing from ketamine can be complex.

During the withdrawal process, you may become emotionally unstable, and depending on your current mental health, this can complicate the detoxification period. It is highly recommended that you do not withdraw from ketamine unsupervised. Depending on the situation, you could harm yourself or someone else. 

As mentioned, ketamine withdrawal symptoms are primarily psychological. Although some individuals have reported physical symptoms, these have not been scientifically verified. Some concerning signs include a potentially faster heart rate and rapid breathing. 

Some users do not experience any “withdrawal” symptoms per se, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help. If your life revolves around using, you need to seek help. Even if withdrawal symptoms are not significant, most users will experience heightened anxiety when they abruptly stop taking ketamine — especially when psychological dependence is of concern or if you have an underlying mental health condition. 

What Causes Ketamine Withdrawal?

It is not entirely clear how ketamine works. However, this process is complex, involving several brain areas and chemicals. 

Research shows that both ketamine and PCP act specifically at the MDMA/glutamate receptor. Animal studies indicate that ketamine is reinforcing, in that animals will press a bar to obtain more. Some of these studies have showcased the development of ketamine withdrawal symptoms

When you take ketamine, this drug causes changes to cerebral GABA and glutamate. Following repeated use, several regions of the brain are affected.

Research shows that ketamine abuse often occurs within polydrug abuse. Many users experience withdrawal symptoms because of the other substances they abuse in conjunction with ketamine. The combination of various drugs can cause many physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. 

Dangerous effects may also occur during use, which is why it’s crucial to address problematic drug use before a life-threatening situation arises. For example, when users take high doses of ketamine or combine ketamine with alcohol, they can experience amnesia, more intense dissociations, numbness, and delirium. So, the cause of ketamine withdrawal is not always black and white. Often, other substances are involved. 

If you continually use ketamine, a tolerance will develop, which may result in higher and higher doses. There are also potential overdose risks, as seen in the clinical setting. In select cases, patients require airway management and ventilatory support for hours. 

Although ketamine withdrawal can be a daunting process, you must understand the dangers of continued use. Research shows that chronic and prolonged use leads to organ damage, including brain damage.

How Long Does Ketamine Withdrawal Take?

When considering the duration of ketamine withdrawal, symptoms aren’t always as distinct as other substances of abuse. Since ketamine causes very few, if any, physical withdrawal symptoms, it’s challenging to determine how long someone will experience psychological symptoms.

For some, this could be days, whereas others may struggle for weeks or months. As discussed, this is an individualized process — no two people are identical. 

That said, whenever you’re considering the length of a withdrawal process, you must consider a substance’s half-life. Ketamine is lipid-soluble with a half-life of just 2-3 hours. This timeframe means that within 2-3 hours, half of the plasma concentration of ketamine is eliminated from the body.

Once ketamine and other substances of abuse are eliminated, you can then address variables that may have contributed to repeated ketamine use. It’s crucial to address these variables so that you do not relapse or replace ketamine with another substance of abuse — one that may lead to more significant withdrawal symptoms. 

If you are using ketamine as a means of escape. It is time to seek help from an expert team of professionals.

How To Safely Manage a Ketamine Detox

Ketamine abuse, even at high doses, does not cause withdrawal symptoms as significant as other substances of abuse. It is the psychological implications that can be very challenging to overcome.

For this reason, it is recommended that you complete the ketamine withdrawal process in a professional, supportive environment — especially if other substances are involved. Once you have eliminated all substances from your system, you can focus on holistic healing. 

Ongoing therapy in a professional treatment facility will allow you to address triggers and any underlying mental health conditions that may lead to a cycle of abuse. For example, researchers continue to examine the link between ketamine and depression.

If you have been suffering from depression, you know how debilitating it can be. You may have a history of drug abuse, and upon trying ketamine, you liked how it made you feel — disconnected from your feelings.

Major depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, which creates another layer during the treatment process. You cannot treat one without the other — which is the idea behind the concept of holistic treatment. You need to treat substance abuse and mental health concerns together, as they influence each other. 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Regardless of the substance, overcoming physical or psychological dependence is challenging. Having the support you need to overcome the ketamine withdrawal process can make all the difference. Although the ketamine withdrawal process is not as significant as other substances of abuse, that does not mean you will not continue to relapse — especially when your goal is to mask the symptoms of a mental health condition. 

A professional treatment facility will offer evidence-based treatment options that ensure individualized care. Your treatment plan will be created based on your unique needs, history, and ongoing goals. This approach will ensure the highest levels of success. 

If you are a polydrug user, you must complete the withdrawal process in a supervised, controlled environment. Your safety is of the utmost importance, and when there are several drugs involved in the withdrawal process, symptoms can become much more complicated and severe. With the help of a professional facility, you will be able to manage withdrawal symptoms in a way that makes your experience as safe and comfortable as possible. 

If you are currently stuck in a cycle of ketamine abuse or are experimenting with several drugs, now is the time to take action. Contact Zinnia Health to begin your road to recovery today.

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