Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic and synthetic depressant that acts on the central nervous system. It has a number of legitimate medicinal and veterinary uses, including as a tranquilizer for horses, but also as an anesthetic for humans in some parts of the world.
Because of its dissociative effects, it has become popular as a recreational drug for young addicts. In low doses, ketamine can be used as a “club drug” to induce a euphoric, psychedelic state. At higher doses, however, it is said to provide an “out-of-body” experience, where the user feels detached from their senses and environment.
This state is often called “k-hole” by users and can be accompanied by a hallucinogenic “trip” and muscle paralysis. This period of intense effects may last only 1-2 hours, but its influence is often felt over a longer period of time and can cause significant impairment of the senses and coordination.
Ketamine was first synthesized in 1962 as a replacement for the anesthetic phencyclidine (PCP), which was also abused. It is now less used as an anesthetic for humans, due to its dissociative effects, except in hospitals in some countries and in certain situations. The majority of street drugs come from veterinary clinics, where they can be stolen or acquired illicitly.
In its original form, ketamine is a clear, odorless liquid usually packaged in a small pharmaceutical bottle, but for recreational use it is often turned into a white powder by evaporation. In some cases, it can then be pressed into tablets and mixed with other illegal drugs.
Ketamine is often inhaled through the nose, but it can also be taken orally, smoked with tobacco or injected intravenously. Unauthorized possession or sale of this drug is now illegal in many parts of the world.
Ketamine is used as a recreational drug in many Western countries, as well as in China and other parts of Asia. On the street, it is known by a variety of names, including ket, K, Special K, Vitamin K, green, Kit Kat, Donkey Dust and Super K.
Its full medicinal name is ketamine chlorydrate and it is bottled under different names such as Ketalar, Ketaset and Ketavet. Its street version is almost always taken from these legitimate sources and usually made into a powder by evaporation.
In recent years, it has gained popularity in nightclubs. It is sometimes pressed into pills and misleadingly sold as ecstasy (which would normally contain MDMA), either alone or in combination with other drugs such as stimulants.
Finally, ketamine is sometimes mixed with cocaine and sold by traffickers as CK1.
Because ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic, people who have taken a large enough dose will experience a disconnection from their mind and outer senses. This in itself can be a major risk, as people will be more prone to accidents and injury. There have even been cases of death, as ketamine users have drowned in their baths due to their reduced awareness of the environment.
In this state of limited consciousness, or even paralysis, users are vulnerable to the actions of predators. Ketamine has been used as a “date rape drug”.
Some users experience bad trips, similar to LSD, during the first phase of the effects (the famous “k-hole”). These experiences can lead to extreme anxiety, nightmarish hallucinations and temporary psychosis. Individuals with existing mental health problems (diagnosed or not) may be more exposed to these negative effects and may be more profoundly affected.
Regular use of ketamine can lead to a persistent state of mental confusion, anxiety, paranoia and depression. This state can, in turn, increase the risk of accidents and serious interpersonal problems.
Particularly high doses can dangerously alter breathing and heart rates and, when mixed with stimulants such as MDMA, significantly increase blood pressure.
Long-term use of ketamine has been found to cause irreversible damage to the urinary system, sometimes requiring removal of the bladder. Other physical dysfunctions have also been reported, such as abdominal cramps.
Finally, users who inject the drug are at high risk of complications and infection, especially if they share needles.
Ketamine is artificially synthesized in a laboratory and used for legitimate purposes as a medical anesthetic for humans and animals around the world. It is therefore produced legally by legitimate pharmaceutical companies and it is these goods that end up on the street through illegal means. Due to the relative complexity of the manufacturing process and the difficulty in obtaining all of its precursor chemicals, ketamine is not manufactured in clandestine or “home” laboratories, as is the case with amphetamines for example.
Although the unauthorized sale or possession of ketamine is illegal in many countries, it is not regulated by international law and circulates freely across borders. The drug is thus exported from countries with less control over pharmaceutical sales, or with high levels of corruption, to nations with tighter control over their national stocks. Its legitimate use as an anaesthetic facilitates its detour by criminals and traffickers but complicates the regulation of the substance.
According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) drug report, 99% of the ketamine seized worldwide in 2009 was in Asia. Between 2005 and 2009, the amount of illegal ketamine seized in the region jumped from 3256kg to 10693kg. In China, authorities are reportedly dismantling ketamine production labs on a regular basis (unconfirmed information).
India is also a major illicit supplier of ketamine, as batches of the anesthetic produced in the country are known to end up on the streets of Europe, North America, and other regions.In the United States, ketamine is often exported from Mexico, after being stolen or diverted from hospitals and veterinary clinics.
It is important to note that in almost all cases, ketamine is produced legally by legitimate pharmaceutical companies before being acquired illegally through deception, theft or collusion. It is sometimes purchased with fake pharmaceutical licenses and by impersonating legitimate buyers, such as hospital supply staff. In China, an official audit in 2004 revealed that more than nine million bottles of ketamine disappeared from legitimate channels in one year.
Once acquired through these means, the drug is usually prepared for sale on the street, turned into a white powder by evaporation of the liquid anesthetic. Ketamine can then be sold illegally on the streets of the country of origin in powder or tablet form. It can also be exported through international trafficking and organized crime networks.
Sometimes a company legitimately produces the drug with government approval and then deliberately diverts it to the black market for sale abroad. In India, some legal ketamine producers were found to be selling their product legally in domestic pharmaceutical markets while increasing production to illegally supply foreign markets.
On a smaller scale, criminal groups may break into local veterinary hospitals and clinics to steal their anesthetic supplies.
FACTS AND STATISTICS
- Ketamine is a central nervous system depressant.
- It is a dissociative anesthetic, distorting perception and “disconnecting” the individual from their senses and environment.
- In high doses, the drug can produce an “out of body” experience, colloquially known as a “k-hole.
- Ketamine is legitimately used as an anesthetic for humans and animals. First synthesized for this purpose in 1962, it is now rarely used on adults because of its potentially unpleasant dissociative effects, called “emergence phenomena.”
- Ketamine is sold on the black market, usually in powder form, after being acquired from legitimate sources through illegal means.
- In many countries, possession or sale of ketamine without proper authorization is a crime punishable by law. In the United Kingdom, ketamine was made a class C drug in 2006 due to increased abuse. In the United States, it has been a Schedule III controlled substance since 1999. Many other countries have followed suit over the past decade.
- On the street, ketamine is also known as ket, K, Super C, Special K, Kit Kat and vitaminK.
- The drug is not chemically addictive, but it can be psychologically addictive.
- Its harmful effects include impaired brain function, memory loss, confusion and an increased risk of accidents.
- Regular use can cause severe damage to the bladder and lead to or exacerbate mental health problems.
- Mixed with alcohol, ketamine can cause severe breathing difficulties, vomiting and nausea.
- The effects of the drug can be felt within 5 to 10 minutes by inhalation, less if injected, and can take up to 20 minutes to appear if taken orally.
- The main effects of the drug (“trip”) last between 1 and 2 hours, but cognitive impairment and other effects may persist for several hours.
- The effects of the drug can take up to 24 hours to wear off, depending on the dose and the tolerance of the individual.
- Ketamine is a class C drug in the UK, and possession is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine. Distribution, even to friends, is punishable by 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
- As of 2011, the average price of a gram of ketamine in the UK is about $33 (€24), up from $48 in 2005 (€35.5).
- The drug is mostly used by young people. A study conducted in the United States by the
- Drug Abuse Warning Network showed that 74% of ketamine-related hospital emergencies involved individuals between the ages of 12 and 25.
- A British crime study found that in 2006, 0.9% of 16 to 24 year olds had used ketamine in the previous month.
- In 2005, according to a UNODC drug report, ketamine seizures in India were less than 100kg. In 2009, they were 1100kg.
- In 2009, 99% of global ketamine seizures took place in Asia.
SIGNS OF ADDICTION
Although ketamine is not chemically addictive like heroin or alcohol, for example, it can be psychologically addictive, in which case individuals use it to escape from their lives and problems. The experiences are a great source of pleasure for the users, which keeps them going.
In addition, users can gradually build up a tolerance to a certain amount of the drug, forcing them to take more and more of it to get the desired effect.
A person who has taken a particularly high dose of ketamine may appear almost catatonic for an hour or more. With a lower dose, the person may appear “foggy”, have joint problems and be at high risk of accidents. The person may seem disoriented, act in unusual ways and even react to things that are not there because they are hallucinating.
Regular users may be frequently disoriented, even when they are not under the influence of the drug. They may also appear depressed or emotionally disturbed. Like many other drugs, regular ketamine users may lose interest in their daily lives and ordinary concerns such as schoolwork or paying bills.
In users who inject the substance, hypodermic needle marks may be visible on their arms or other parts of their bodies.
Finally, ketamine addicts may talk about the “k-hole,” a state induced by a large amount of the substance, during which the individual feels as if his or her body and mind are dissociating.
Ketamine is not known to be physically addictive, but there is considerable evidence of strong psychological dependence in regular users.
Physical withdrawal effects are usually mild in people going through withdrawal. They may include increased tension and anxiety, restlessness and occasional muscle spasms.
Psychological withdrawal effects, on the other hand, can be much worse and can be a source of great difficulty for people trying to cope. For some regular users, especially those who suffer from emotional disorders or who are in difficult situations, taking ketamine allows them to manage, or rather avoid managing, the stresses of daily life. Some people are desperate to return to a state of dissociation from their senses and their environment, and it is this intense desire that can make recovery particularly difficult.
Because the nature of addiction is primarily psychological, a holistic approach is often used, which takes into account the individual’s relationship with the drug, but also with themselves and their entire life. Twelve-step programs similar to those used for alcoholism can help the addict break the addiction to ketamine.
Addiction treatment can be done in a detox center or on an outpatient basis by attending support groups, therapy sessions or other activities designed to prevent relapse.
Speech or behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective part of the treatment program.
7. Ketamine – Treatment
CBT can help the individual identify the underlying reasons for their addiction and adopt alternative behaviors to make their future healthier and drug-free.
In addition to these formal therapies, the addict can attend informal support group meetings with people who are in a similar situation to him or her. In many cases, this type of mutual emotional support can be just as helpful as more formal treatment methods, as it allows the addict to see that they are not alone in their struggle and that others like them have overcome their addiction.
A comprehensive ketamine addiction program can also include more general lifestyle and health-based treatments, which are designed to enhance a sense of physical and mental well-being. These treatments can prevent relapse and serve as a stepping stone to a healthier, more constructive, drug-free lifestyle.
Regardless of the method used to overcome ketamine addiction, the first step will always be to stop using the drug, followed by a short period of detoxification. Along with or before this, a detox professional can perform an assessment of the individual and their addiction to identify the best treatment plan for that person.
Depending on the level of addiction, it may be necessary to continue support and therapy for a period of time so that the individual does not return to his or her former destructive behaviors.