What Is Ketamine Addiction?

Ketamine Addiction: Signs, Dangers and Recovery

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine was developed as an anaesthetic for animals and it is now abused as a recreational drug, especially among young adults in the night club scene. It is typically sold on the streets as a grainy white powder.  Ketamine is referred to by a number of different names including, Special K, Kit Kat, Cat Valium, Dorothy or Vitamin K.

Ketamine has hallucinogenic and sedating effects, which produce an out of body experience (dissociative) in which the user feels detached from themselves and reality. A ketamine user’s perceptions of sight and sound can often be distorted, making it difficult for them to move. For this reason, and because it is odourless and colourless, it has been used as a ‘date rape’ drug. In some extreme cases users have reported feeling a ‘near death’ experience while others have experienced feelings of ‘complete bliss’.

Ketamine has some genuine applications in medicine and is sometimes used to sedate children who have had adverse reactions to other anaesthetic medications, as well as in radiation and burn therapy, and as a topical numbing for severe pain relief. It is also used in situations where sedation is necessary but stronger anaesthetics may be too much for the individual to handle.

Ketamine is a schedule III controlled substance, which puts it in the same category as codeine and anabolic steroids. Schedule III substances have potential to lead to physical dependence, but they are very likely to lead to psychological dependence. Legally, ketamine is available by doctor’s prescription only.

Ketamine is available in several forms from liquid to powder. When taken in liquid form it is injected and when taken as a powder it is snorted or dissolved in liquid to drink, although some users like to ‘bomb’ it, which is swallowing the powder wrapped in a cigarette paper. Ketamine can also be found in pill form, but this is less common.

The Effects of Ketamine

Ketamine is a dissociative hallucinogenic tranquilizer that causes the user to experience a full-body ‘buzz’ and a pronounced sense of relaxation. Typically, the high lasts less than an hour. Users are often seeking an effect known as the “K-hole,” where the individual has what is described as a near-death or out-of-body experience, feeling completely detached from reality, the most common attribute of which is not being able to physically move. Reaching the K-hole stage is particularly easy if snorting ketamine or injecting higher doses. Before reaching the K-hole stage, the anaesthetic properties can cause the person to feel numb, which may lead to accidents and serious injuries while under its influence.

Ketamine has a short-lived high and tolerance to the drug builds up quickly, requiring users to keep increasing quantities as they keep chasing the high.

Due to the unpredictable nature of Ketamine, it is difficult for the user to gauge how much is too much. Sometimes an overdose can occur after a small dose of Ketamine, especially if other drugs or alcohol have also been ingested. Many accidental overdoses occur when a user attempts to reach the K-hole, is immobilized, and cannot ask for help. Respiratory failure is the leading cause of death from a Ketamine overdose.

Other adverse side effects of Ketamine include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Respiratory issues
  • Flashbacks or hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Long-term cognitive difficulties

Physical effects from Ketamine, even from small doses for short periods of time, last for up to 24 hours after the last dose. Some of the common prolonged side-effects include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Stumbling
  • Muscle weakness

Signs of Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine is classified as a hallucinogen. This means that when abused, ketamine has powerful hallucinogenic properties that can cause highly unpredictable results. Ketamine affects people very differently and there is no way to know what dosage level could be dangerous, especially when combined with other drugs (see below).

Signs that someone you care about may be abusing Ketamine include:

    • Signs while under the influence of Ketamine:
  • Disorientation
  • Respiratory distress
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Psychotic episodes and hallucinations
  • Slowed movement
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Numbness
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired motor function
  • Distorted perceptions of sight and sound
    • Signs while not directly under the influence of Ketamine:
  • Redness of the skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Antsy behaviour
  • Loss of coordination
  • Bladder damage caused by the abrasive nature of the chemicals passing through the kidneys and urinary tract. In only months of heavy Ketamine use, the bladder is often destroyed. Warning signs include blood in the urine and pain when urinating.

What’s the worst case scenario for a Ketamine abuser?

When Ketamine is abused for an extended period of time, the side effects listed above can last in excess of a year.

Impaired cognitive function and brain, bladder and kidney damage can be permanent. Respiratory failure and increased heart rate can result in death.

How to Identify a Ketamine Addiction (versus Ketamine abuse)

Most people begin using Ketamine as a recreational drug with the intention of experiencing a mild psychedelic effect. With continued abuse, the user will develop a tolerance and will need to take larger quantities of Ketamine to achieve the same psychedelic effects. Taking large quantities is known as ‘chronic abuse’.

Chronic abuse, in turn, can lead to a psychological addiction which presents with a mental obsession for the drug and intense cravings. An individual with a Ketamine addiction will display some additional signs*1  to those listed above for abusers, including:

  • Time spent trying to acquire the drug and a mental obsession with having it
  • Desire to limit use
  • Lack of control over use
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Ignoring obligations and responsibilities
  • Problems with relationships
  • Career problems (caused by ignoring responsibilities)
  • Financial problems
  • Criminality

Individuals with a psychological addiction to ketamine have a strong desire to experience the drug’s maximum effects possible, including an intense psychedelic high, vivid hallucinations and the “K-hole” (out of body experience and immobility).

Excessive use of the drug while trying to achieve these effects may result in overdose, or psychotic and schizophrenic-like behaviours and tendencies.

*1 Signs of addiction from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Clinical Disorders

Combining Ketamine with other Drugs

Ketamine is often combined with other drugs. In its liquid form, Ketamine can be easily mixed into an alcoholic beverage or added to marijuana or tobacco products. Mixing Ketamine with alcohol or other depressants is especially dangerous because Ketamine is also a depressant and this may lead to a serious reduction in heart rate and respiratory function.

As a powder, Ketamine can be combined with other powdered drugs such as MDMA, (ecstasy), and pressed into a tablet form or placed into a capsule. Mixing a stimulant (MDMA) with a depressant can also result in severe complications. Other drugs that are commonly mixed with Ketamine are other psychedelics, such as LSD and DMT.

It is not uncommon for people to unknowingly take Ketamine thinking it is another drug, or to discover that the drug they think they are taking has been mixed with ketamine. This is extremely problematic due to the different dose sizes people would take of different drugs. This can lead to unintentional k-hole and even death.

The biggest problem with combining drugs is that it becomes 

impossible to gauge how much you have taken of each drug which 

significantly increases the likelihood of an accidental overdose

Ketamine Withdrawal and Treatment

Someone who has abused Ketamine over a long period of time may experience dangerous psychological withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit including intense depression, which can lead to an increased suicide risk.

Because Ketamine addiction is primarily psychological, the withdrawal symptoms are also typically psychological in nature. Some chronic users have reported physical withdrawal symptoms but these have not yet been scientifically evidenced. The most common Ketamine withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Hearing loss
  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  • Loss of motor skills and coordination
  • Double vision
  • Agitation
  • Confusion and paranoia
  • Depression and emotional imbalance
  • Psychosis, including delusion and hallucinations
  • Rage
  • Nausea and fatigue
  • Decrease in respiratory and cardiac functions
  • Insomnia combined with fatigue
  • Shaking
  • Cognitive impairment

For those with severe Ketamine addictions, The Lighthouse Bali is able to offer medical detox in combination with Primary Inpatient Programs. The Lighthouse Bali is one of the only rehabs in Bali that is able to provide this service. A medical detox is closely monitored by our medical and clinical teams and it is, by far, the safest and most comfortable way to detox from Ketamine due to the unpredictable nature of the withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient Care and Rehab

The Lighthouse Bali’s proven combination of an initial Primary Inpatient Program*2  followed by Outpatient Care and Ongoing Therapy has helped Ketamine addicts from around the world, to get their lives back on track. Through individually tailored treatment, professional therapy, and compassionate support, you will be given the tools you need to ensure the best possible chances of a long term recovery.

*2 The duration of Primary Inpatient Programs and Outpatient Care varies according to individual circumstances. Both Inpatient and Outpatient treatment is based around monthly (28 day) increments. As a general guideline we recommend between one month and three month Primary Inpatient Programs,  followed by one to two months Outpatient Care in Bali, and up to six months of ongoing therapy (by Zoom or Skype from home). The longer you stay in rehab, the better your chances of achieving long term sobriety when you return home. 

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, we urge you to reach out and contact us in confidence. Our private programs are tailor-made to suit individual needs and our doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction. If you are not currently in Bali but would like to begin a recovery program immediately, we also have online recovery options available which can be taken in this interim period before Bali reopens international borders.

We understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help, but you only need to do it once. Picking up the phone or sending an email is your first step on the road to recovery. You do not need to go through this alone and we are ready to listen.

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