Ketamine Misuse: Effects, Risks & Addiction

This page will discuss ketamine uses and classification, the effects and dangers it presents, the addiction potential of ketamine, and symptoms of overdose and withdrawal.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative drug similar in chemical structure to phencyclidine (PCP), but with 10% of its potency.1,2 Dissociative drugs make people feel detached from their body and surroundings.3

Medically, ketamine has been used for decades as an injectable short-acting anesthetic for humans and animals and was recently approved for the treatment of treatment-resistant depression.1

When used for illicit purposes, ketamine may be found in powder or liquid form and is especially popular in nightclubs and all-night dance parties.1,4 Ketamine may be:1

  • Snorted in small lines or “bumps” like that of cocaine.
  • Added to tobacco or marijuana cigarettes and smoked.
  • Mixed into drinks and consumed orally.
  • Injected intravenously (in its liquid form).

Street names for ketamine include:2

  • Special K.
  • Super K.
  • Jet.
  • Superacid.
  • Vitamin K.
  • K.

Ketamine is classified as a Schedule III drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicating it has licit uses but also some potential for “physical and psychological dependence.”5

Ketamine Effects & Dangers

When used in low doses, ketamine produces psychedelic effects of euphoria referred to as being in “k-land.”2 Conversely, high doses result in immobilization and dark thoughts to the point the user may become suicidal; this phenomenon is referred to as being in a “k-hole.”2

Ketamine effects and risks include:2,6

  • Sedation.
  • Confusion.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Memory loss.
  • Learning and attention problems.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Ulcers.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Urinary problems.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Overdose.

Due to its immobilizing effects at high doses, ketamine has been used to facilitate sexual assault (i.e., as a “date rape” drug).4

Injection of ketamine increases the risk of developing HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases from shared needles.6

Ketamine Overdose Symptoms

Ketamine overdose is a possible effect of ketamine misuse, especially when ketamine is used in conjunction with other substances like alcohol or opioids.7 Symptoms of ketamine overdose may include:2

  • Respiratory depression.
  • Vocal cord spasms (more common with intravenous delivery).
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.

A ketamine overdose requires immediate medical attention.

Illicit substances like ketamine and other drugs may contain dangerous adulterants like fentanyl, which can greatly increase the risk of death by overdose.3 If opioid involvement is suspected, Narcan (naloxone) can be administered to potentially reverse the overdose and buy time for emergency services to arrive. Narcan is safe for laypeople to administer and will likely have no effect on someone that has not taken opioids.8

Is Ketamine Addictive?

There is evidence to suggest ketamine has addiction potential.2 Addiction is a compulsive, uncontrollable urge to use a substance despite the adverse effects it causes.9

To be diagnosed with a substance use disorder, a person needs to meet certain criteria determined by medical professionals. The criteria for a ketamine use disorder include:9

  1. Taking more ketamine than intended or over a longer period than intended.
  2. Expressing the desire—or making repeated, unsuccessful efforts—to cut down or stop ketamine use.
  3. Excessive time is spent to obtain, use, or recover from ketamine use.
  4. Experiencing cravings for ketamine.
  5. Failure to fulfill major roles or obligations because of ketamine use.
  6. Continued ketamine use despite it causing problems in one’s relationships.
  7. Giving up important social, career, or recreational activities to use ketamine.
  8. Using ketamine even in situations that are physically dangerous (such as driving).
  9. Using ketamine despite knowing it has caused or worsened physical or psychological problems.
  10. Developing a tolerance. In other words, needing more ketamine to get the desired effect or taking the same amount results in decreased subjective effects.

Exhibiting 2 or more of the above in a 12-month period would result in a positive diagnosis of ketamine addiction.9

Ketamine Withdrawal

Medical detox is seldom required for ketamine addiction;10 however, there are some reports that abrupt cessation of ketamine use can cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms including:11

  • Cravings. 
  • Sweating. 
  • Shaking. 
  • Anxiety.

Treatment for Ketamine Addiction in Texas

Ketamine addiction treatment typically includes evidence-based practices such as:12

Treatment can take place in a variety of treatment settings, including detox, inpatient care, intensive outpatient services, and partial hospitalization.

Call to begin treatment at our inpatient rehabs near Dallas or outpatient facility in Arlington. Admissions navigators can answer your questions on how to pay for rehab, including using your insurance coverage to cover treatment. Don’t wait to begin a journey to recovery—start today.

Verify your insurance coverage using the confidential .

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