What is ketamine?

Ketamine, or ketamine hydrochloride, is a non-barbiturate, rapid-acting disassociative anaesthetic used on animals and humans. It has also been used in human medicine for paediatric burn cases and dentistry, and in experimental psychotherapy. It is being abused by an increasing number of young people as a ‘club drug’ and is often distributed at raves and parties.

Some street names for ketamine are: K, Ket, Special K, Vitamin K, Vit K, Kit Kat, Keller, Kelly’s day, Green, Blind squid, Cat valium, Purple, Special la coke, Super acid, and Super C. Slang for experiences related to ketamine or effects of ketamine include, ‘k-hole’, ‘K-land’, ‘baby food’, and ‘God’.

How is ketamine abused?

Ketamine is a liquid and the most potent way of using it is by injecting it intramuscularly or intravenously. There is a risk of losing motor control before the injection is completed. Ketamine also can be made into a tablet or a powder by evaporating the liquid and reducing it to a fine white powder that can be smoked or snorted. Because of its appearance, ketamine is often mistaken for cocaine or crystal methamphetamine. Some reports indicate it is sometimes sold as MDMA (ecstasy) and mixed with other drugs such as ephedrine and caffeine.

What are ketamine’s effects?

Ketamine produces a dissociative state in a user. Effects can range from rapture to paranoia to boredom. The user feels its hallucinogenic effects and experiences impaired perception. Ketamine commonly elicits an out-of-body or near-death experience; it can render the user comatose.

Ketamine is similar molecularly to phencyclidine (PCP or ‘angel dust’) and thus creates similar effects, including numbness, loss of coordination, a sense of invulnerability, muscle rigidity, aggressive/violent behaviour, slurred or blocked speech, an exaggerated sense of strength, and a blank stare. There is depression of respiratory function but not of the central nervous system, and cardiovascular function is maintained. Since ketamine is an anaesthetic, it stops the user from feeling pain, which could lead the user to inadvertently cause injury to himself. Ketamine may relieve tension and anxiety, is purported to be a sexual stimulant, and intensifies colours and sounds.

The effects of a ketamine ‘high’ usually last an hour but they can last for 4 to 6 hours, and 24 to 48 hours are generally required before the user will feel completely ‘normal’ again. Effects of chronic use of ketamine may take from several months to two years to wear off completely. Low doses (25mg to 100mg) produce psychedelic effects quickly. Large doses can produce vomiting and convulsions and may lead to oxygen starvation to the brain and muscles; one gram can cause death. Flashbacks may occur up to a year after use. Long-term effects include tolerance and possible physical and/or psychological dependence.

How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A trained clinical psychologist can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have any problem areas, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you if necessary.

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