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K-bladder: A side effect of ketamine abuse

Ketamine – often known as “Special K” in more recreational settings – is a powerful anesthetic used in hospitals and on the battlefield. Like many anesthetics, it can produce floaty, dream-like euphoric sensations. Unlike many anesthetics, ketamine can create vivid hallucinations, creating the out-of-body sensation users call the “k-hole.”

It’s also dangerous to abuse.

Although it’s still unclear if ketamine’s an addictive drug, long-term use of ketamine is still fairly dangerous. Aside from the usual risks of steady drug use, researchers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are finding that ketamine seems to damage its users’ bladders.

K-bladder: an emerging problem?

The first research done on a potential relationship between ketamine use and bladder damage emerged in 2007. Researchers in Canada published a paper studying nine patients who had severe bladder problems – and were all daily ketamine users. An additional study conducted that year by researchers in Hong Kong found 10 ketamine users admitted to hospitals there also had abnormalities in their bladders and urinary tracts.

Researchers in the U.K. first became concerned about the relationship between ketamine use and bladder problems in 2008. A letter published in the British Medical Journal by doctors from the British Urological Institute reported they had seen nine patients who had intense bladder problems associated with ketamine use. In 2011, a study led by researchers at various hospitals in the U.K. found a relationship between ketamine use and bladder difficulties. Some of the effects in users the U.K. researchers found were:

  • Incontinence
  • Bladder shrinkage
  • Kidney and ureter damage

Ketamine cystitis

The ICNetwork, a California-based support network for patients dealing with interstitial cystitis, lists the following urinary tract symptoms a ketamine user could potentially face:

  • Increased need to urinate, without warning
  • A sensation of a full bladder even after urinating
  • Pain in the pelvis and bladder
  • Blood in the urine
  • Incontinence

It’s important to seek treatment. Cystitis, left untreated, can cause long-term damage to the bladder and urinary tract.

Ketamine’s an anesthetic with a difference

Unlike opiates, ketamine doesn’t block pain receptors. According to the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research, ketamine’s a “dissociative anesthetic,” meaning it produces sensations of removal from the environment and even the self, distracting the patient from the pain and anxiety of injury or surgery. Ketamine’s chief advantage is that it’s somewhat safer than opiates as it doesn’t depress the blood pressure like opiates do.

Other studies have shown sustained ketamine abuse also damages the brain’s memory functions.  However, ketamine also seems to have legitimate uses in treating depression. A study published in the journal “Biological Psychiatry” found patients who used a nasal spray containing ketamine helped address some of the symptoms of depression.

In a double-blind test, 20 patients with major depression were randomly given either a saline nasal spray or a spray containing 50mg of ketamine. The researchers found the patients who had received the ketamine spray showed significant improvement in mood 24 hours after first taking the spray.

More study on ketamine’s effects, positive and negative, needs to be done. However, it’s increasingly clear recreational ketamine use has serious risks. Although it’s sill unclear as to whether or not ketamine is addictive, it appears prolonged use can cause serious damage to the body. Sovereign Health of Texas offers expert, scientifically-proven treatment for drug addiction and mental health disorders. Our treatment team sees patients for the individuals they are, ensuring them the best possible chance at recovery and a sober life. Please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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