First developed in 1963, ketamine was intended to be a replacement for phencyclidine (PCP). A dissociative anesthetic, it makes patients feel detached from pain and environment by distorting both visual and aural perceptions and producing hallucinations that generally last for 30 to 60 minutes. It is a Schedule III non-narcotic substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) with a moderate to low risk of physical dependence, a higher risk for psychological dependence and a high abuse potential.
Odorless and tasteless, ketamine is sold as a white powder that can be snorted. Users may opt to mix the powder with tobacco or marijuana and smoke it. It is also produced as a clear liquid that can be swallowed or injected. Ketamine induces a dreamlike state in users and they feel less inhibited. When injected, the effects may be felt in as little as one to five minutes. When swallowed, it may take as long as 30 minutes for the effects to be felt. Users may sometimes experience “flashbacks” even after days or weeks of consumption. Of particular concern is the fact that ketamine is used as a date rape drug because it can easily be used to spike drinks when in liquid form.
Ketamine abuse produces numerous dangerous side effects, which can include:
- Cognitive difficulties
- Impaired attention
- High blood pressure
- Potentially fatal respiratory problems
- Blurry vision
- Chest pain, discomfort or tightness
- Problems with swallowing
- Hives, skin irritation
- Puffy or swollen face, eyelids, lips or tongue
- Insensitivity to pain
- Bladder disease called ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis
It is sometimes produced and sold in combination with other drugs, including MDMA (ecstasy), amphetamines, methamphetamines and cocaine. Like all hallucinogens and dissociative drugs, ketamine can have a serious impact on its users. According to Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “These drugs can disrupt a person’s ability to think and communicate rationally, or even to recognize reality, sometimes resulting in bizarre or dangerous behavior.”
In the 1990s, ketamine became popular as one of the several substances dubbed “club drugs.” Other club drugs include MDMA (ecstasy), GHB, and Rohypnol). These drugs serve to enhance social intimacy and sensory stimulation. They are generally inexpensive and relatively accessible for young people and generally abused as a recreational drug.
Treatment for ketamine addiction
Depending on the frequency and duration of the drug abuse as well as the severity of symptoms, a comprehensive treatment program for ketamine addiction begins with a medically-supervised detox program, followed by intense psychotherapies or counseling sessions.
While a supervised detoxification treatment helps in getting rid of the toxic substances and managing the withdrawal symptoms, psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help patients in identifying any hidden illnesses that may be contributing to the addiction. This also helps the recovering patient gain effective life skills to live a drug-free life after treatment completion.