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Ketamine is a strong sedative that causes a person to disconnect from themself and their environment. Some seek out this unique experience for the sensory distortion and escape from a stressful reality. There are many harms of ketamine abuse, including dependency and physical harm. Learn more about ketamine and why its abuse often requires treatment.

What Is Ketamine? 

Ketamine is a drug used as an anesthetic during medical tests or surgical operations. Anesthetics work by causing a loss of bodily sensations. If a person is experiencing pain or needs to be sedated, ketamine can get the job done. This drug has been very useful in the medical field and has expanded to psychiatry in recent years. 

Why Is Ketamine Abused?

Like many drugs that were originally intended for legitimate health purposes, ketamine has entered the world of festivals and raves. Outside of medical practice, it may be called “K” or “Special K.” 

People abuse ketamine for both its dissociative and sedative properties, as it makes them feel detached from their environment. Perceptions of sight and sound are altered. Ketamine causes temporary:

  • Euphoria
  • Immobility 
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of control
  • Relief from pain 
  • Calmness and relaxation 
  • Relief from stress 

Ketamine is similar to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phenylcyclohexyl piperidine (PCP) but lasts for a much shorter period of time; it ranges from 30 to 60 minutes. When taken in powder form, it may be snorted or smoked. Liquid ketamine can be injected or consumed in drinks. Additionally, it can be combined with other drugs like 3,4-methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA), cocaine, and meth.

What Is a “K-Hole?”

A “K-hole” is one of many types of powerful experiences someone can have while on this drug. A person who has fallen into a K-hole has an out-of-body or near-death experience. According to the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA), ketamine can cause some people to also: 

  • Have a mellow and colorful experience (“K-land”)
  • Sink into a blissful, infantile inertia (“Baby food”)
  • Believe that they have met a higher power (“God”)  

How Can This Experience Be Dangerous?

While under the influence of ketamine, a person does not feel, think, or behave in ways they normally would. Of course, this is the main reason for using substances in the first place; however, this could lead to unexpected, distressing experiences, such as:  

  • Anxiety 
  • Amnesia
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Discoordination
  • Unconsciousness
  • Cognitive problems  
  • Scary hallucinations

Some individuals get stuck in a dissociative state called psychosis. Psychosis can be terrifying and cause a person to lose touch with reality for a few days or even several months. Others report hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) several weeks after taking ketamine. 

Ketamine can be fatal in those intoxicated by alcohol. Although rare, death by ketamine overdose can still occur as a person’s breathing gets dangerously slow and they become unconscious. 

Physical Harm by Others

The sedative properties of ketamine have been used to commit sexual assault. Individuals can become immobilized, and since they will likely experience some memory loss, they may not remember who their assaulter is. This is not only traumatic and puts a person at risk for STDs, but it can put them in a life-threatening situation because they are completely out of control of their body. 

A person intoxicated with ketamine is more likely to die from associated physical harm and trauma than from overdose. 

Long-Term Effects 

Studies show that individuals who have used ketamine recreationally for long periods can develop psychological dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. A schizophrenia-like syndrome has also been reported with long-term use. 

Ketamine can also take a toll on the gastrointestinal and urological systems, causing abdominal pain, abnormal liver function tests, and hemorrhagic cystitis. If ketamine is injected, individuals are at high risk of blood-borne infections, most notably HIV and hepatitis C. These diseases can cut the course of a person’s life short.

Are There Effective Treatments for Ketamine Use Disorder?

Ketamine use disorder can harm a person’s mental and physical health and lead to the abuse of other drugs and alcohol with more significant addictive potential. It’s crucial to understand the underlying reasons for ketamine use and incorporate healthier patterns of behavior into a person’s lifestyle. Individuals can get effective treatment for this condition in an outpatient program.

Treatment Options

Some people start treatment by detoxing from ketamine in a medically supervised environment. A clinician can help determine if this is necessary as ketamine use disorder typically involves psychological dependence rather than physical dependence. A psychiatric exam may be required if psychological disturbances like delusions are present. Behavioral therapies are the core of treatment. They work to replace harmful behavioral patterns with beneficial ones.

Support groups may also be useful in building a social network focused on healthy living. The Twelve Steps is a type of spiritually-oriented support group that has brought meaning and purpose to the lives of many in recovery from addiction and mental health disorders. 

Ketamine is a powerful drug abused for its ability to induce a unique, mind-altering state. Long-term abuse can lead to ketamine use disorder, mental health disturbances, and other health problems. Individuals may require specialized treatment in an outpatient program. West Coast Recovery Centers offers intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization. Our programs are licensed by California state and nationally accredited by the Joint Commission for the treatment of adults that struggle with substance use and mental health conditions. We provide a safe environment for clients to open up about their troubles and do the deep work needed to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Clinical and holistic modalities are available to support various paths to recovery; each client faces different challenges, and they must have options to work through them effectively. To learn more about how we can treat ketamine use disorder, call us today at (760) 492-6509.

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