Ketamine has long been used as a short-term general anesthetic in the medical world. Recently it has started to gain popularity elsewhere due to its dissociative effects and potentially effective treatment of mental health conditions, such as depression.
But like many drugs, if used and abused, ketamine comes hand-in-hand with several adverse long-term side effects.
What is ketamine, what side effects arise from ketamine use, and why has it started to spread across the medical and recreational world? Read here to find out more.
What Is Ketamine?
Ketamine is recognized by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule III drug, meaning it is acceptable for medical use and is thought to have a moderate to low risk of physical and psychological dependence.
It is a short-acting general anesthetic often used before or after medical procedures to induce a loss of consciousness in both animals and humans. Under medical supervision, the drug is deemed safe and effective as it does not lower breathing rates or blood pressure, unlike other anesthetics.
Ketamine is categorized as a dissociative anesthetic. Drugs in this category cause a person to become disconnected, causing time to feel like it is passing slower than usual. In some instances, people who use ketamine may feel detached from their bodies and mind.
Drug-induced dissociation produces hallucinations and a euphoric-like state, which is why ketamine abuse has started to gain popularity among young adults and teens who typically use it as a 'club drug.' Ketamine can come in a white powder form or a clear liquid. Because of this and the effects of ketamine use, it is unfortunately used as a date rape drug.
Recreational Ketamine Abuse
Ketamine is taken as a recreational drug because of its euphoric and dissociative effects. Like other hallucinogenic drugs on the market, ketamine leaves users detached and relaxed.
The drug can be taken in a few different ways, ultimately affecting how long the effects last and the intensity of the experience. For example, if ketamine is snorted, it directly enters the bloodstream, causing the effects to be felt very quickly. Depending on the amount taken, the effects can last for as long as an hour.
As ketamine is only a short-lasting drug with an abrupt high that lasts for around an hour, people who take ketamine repeatedly re-administer the drug as soon as the effects start to wear off.
Short-Term Side Effects of Ketamine
If a doctor administers ketamine in a medical setting, short-term effects include feelings of calmness and relaxation. Clients will also experience complete relief from any pain and feel amnesia and immobile.
However, the recreational use of ketamine poses very different side effects. The initial feeling after ketamine use is described as a full-body buzz, essentially an intense feeling of relaxation. Typically, low doses give the sensation of floating, and many people report having an out-of-body experience. Hallucinations are also common after ketamine use, especially after large doses.
People who take a high enough dose may enter a K-hole. Alongside full-body numbness, extreme visual and auditory hallucinations and intense detachment from the real world are experienced. Some other common side effects of ketamine are:
- Difficulty thinking
- Reduced awareness
- Slowed breathing
- Elevated blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
The Risk of Ketamine Addiction
Due to the pleasant high that ketamine abuse induces, there is a risk of developing a dependence or addiction to the drug. Severe withdrawal symptoms are felt if drug use is stopped, which increases the chances of building an increased tolerance. In turn, this raises the risk of ketamine addiction.
Because ketamine does not induce physical withdrawal symptoms, a ketamine addiction is sometimes referred to as psychological dependence. Those with a ketamine addiction will experience intense cravings, disorientating flashbacks, and other psychological effects.
Ketamine abuse has drastically increased over the past few years as young people seem to be unaware of the health risks. However, prolonged ketamine abuse only exposes the body to the harmful side of the anesthetic and induces long-term side effects.
Long-Term Side Effects of Ketamine
Similar to addictions to other drugs, the long-term side effects of ketamine can be psychological and physical.
It's important to remember that addiction treatment is readily available every step of the way. Many of these long-term side effects can be overcome as soon as treatment is undertaken.
Physical Long-Term Side Effects
The long-term physical effects of ketamine can be life-threatening, so it is important to understand and recognize them to prevent them from reaching this point.
The mild long-term physical effects include changes to vision, such as anomalies, which make day-to-day tasks difficult. Chronic abuse of ketamine can lead to more severe damage to internal organs, specifically to the heart, kidneys, and bladder. Over time, ketamine puts a significant strain on the liver and kidneys, which eventually damages the digestive and urinary tract.
Chronic ketamine abuse causes the bladder to inflame, resulting in troubles with urinating, such as a frequent urge or inability to urinate. There is also a high risk of developing ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis, the result of severe untreated damage to the bladder's tissues, which results in pelvic pain and ulcers.
Research has found that after ketamine abuse, around 33% of people develop a reduced rate of bladder volume. In the most severe cases of cystitis, often after prolonged ketamine abuse, damaged parts of the urinary tract have to be removed. However, if ketamine abuse is stopped, there is a chance that symptoms related to the urinary tract will decrease or subside.
Other long-term effects of ketamine include:
- High blood pressure
- Reduced kidney function
- Respiratory issues
- Increased heart rate
Psychological Long-Term Side Effects of Ketamine Abuse
Prolonged use of any hallucinogenic drug creates changes in brain activity that can be detrimental. Unlike physical side effects, psychological side effects can be a lot harder to identify as they are not visual. Long-term ketamine effects can result in cognitive decline, mood changes, and memory difficulty.
Long-term abuse of ketamine produces chronic impairments within the area of the brain associated with memory. Ketamine abusers have been noted to have difficulty creating memories, accessing old memories, and spatial memory. Problems with short-term and visual memory have also been noted.
If you recognize any physical or physiological issues in yourself or a loved one, we recommend seeking ketamine addiction treatment as soon as possible. If a person stops taking ketamine, these issues will likely improve over time.
Drug and Alcohol Dependence Treatment
Abruptly stopping the use of ketamine can induce intense cravings, so a medically supervised detox is highly recommended.
Treatment will often include various forms of therapy such as group therapy, family therapy, and behavioral therapy. For many, the presence of a co-occurring disorder is also common, so it is important to secure mental health treatment as well.
Addiction Treatment at Cornerstone
At Cornerstone, we combine addiction treatment medications with a range of complementary therapies to give people the best possible chance of a long and healthy recovery.
We recognize the importance of creating an individualized treatment plan for each client. We don't believe in prepackaged therapies and treat each of our clients with respect and courtesy.
Although it may seem difficult to break away from an addiction, we know there is hope for everyone. Please contact our admissions team today if you are ready to start working towards a healthy and addiction-free future. Our healthcare professionals are always available to discuss treatment options with you.