Ketamine, originally developed in the 1960s, has come a long way from its use as an anaesthetic to now also a promising treatment for mental health disorders. But, what are the effects of ketamine?
Whilst acknowledging its potential benefits when utilised for medical reasons, we must also consider the risks and legal implications of its use. In this article, we explore ketamine use and the impact this substance can have from both medical and recreational aspects.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a dissociative anaesthetic, known chemically as a cyclohexanone derivative. It operates primarily as an NMDA receptor antagonist, altering the perception of sight and sound and creating a sense of detachment from the environment and self.
This unique chemical nature contributes to its varied use in medicine and recreation. Unlike typical sedatives, ketamine maintains protective airway reflexes, blood pressure, and heart rate, distinguishing it in clinical settings.
What are the Medical Uses of Ketamine?
In medical contexts, ketamine currently serves primarily as an anaesthetic, valuable for its safety profile, especially in patients with unstable cardiovascular health. Ketamine is actually also known to be used as a horse tranquilliser or as a sedative for other large animals.
Beyond anaesthesia, its role in treating mental health disorders, such as treatment-resistant depression and PTSD, has also gained attention in the medical field. Additionally, its potential in addiction treatment is currently being explored, offering hope in battling chronic addiction cycles.
Ketamine’s Potential for Treating Addiction
Although it’s still in the clinical trial phase, ketamine is being explored for its potential use in addiction treatment in the future.
The University of Exeter is leading a relatively new study which is being funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). It’s now moved on to the next phase, which will determine whether it’s a safe and viable treatment option for alcohol addiction. More research is needed to really understand how best to use it for treating addiction, as well as the long-term effects.
Its potential use in addiction treatment can be understood through the following mechanisms:
- Helps the brain learn new ways: Ketamine can help the brain make new connections. This is like helping the brain learn new ways of doing things, which can be really useful for people trying to overcome addiction.
- Quick relief: One thing about ketamine is that it works fast. For people struggling with really strong cravings or tough withdrawal symptoms, this quick action could potentially be a big help.
- It can potentially help with dual diagnosis: Often, people with addiction also struggle with other mental health issues. Ketamine may help with these conditions too.
- Eases withdrawal symptoms: Ketamine might make the tough symptoms of withdrawal less severe, which can make the whole process of recovery easier.
- Breaks old habits: Ketamine has a special way of working in the brain that might help break the cycle of addiction. This has been proven (on a smaller scale) within the clinical trial being conducted by the University of Exeter, with 86% of participants still practising sobriety at their 6 months check-up.
The Dangers of Ketamine Misuse
When it comes to the illegal use of ketamine, individuals either snort the substance (when it’s in powder form) or orally ingest it (if it’s in tablet form). This substance can also be injected and smoked.
Unfortunately, ketamine misuse has grown, as it’s often used for its hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. Misuse in young adults aged 16 to 24 years has increased in the UK, with a reported prevalence of 3.8% in the year ending March 2023.
Commonly known as a ‘club drug’, it’s used for its ability to induce almost a trance-like state, euphoria, and out-of-body experiences. However, ketamine use outside of medical reasons can come with serious risks, including the potential to develop ketamine addiction.
Ketamine misuse is so dangerous, in fact, that it’s classed as a Class B drug. This means that it’s illegal to be in possession of it (unless it is a valid prescription), to give it away or to distribute it in any way.
What Are the Effects of Ketamine?
See below for more information on the specific physical and psychological effects of ketamine.
The Physical Effects of Ketamine
The short-term physical effects of ketamine misuse can include increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as numbness. At higher doses, complete sensory detachment leads to the “K-hole” experience. Some people also report not being able to feel pain when actively using ketamine, which can put them at risk of hurting themselves without knowing.
Long-term use, however, is linked to more severe consequences. This can include:
- Bladder and kidney complications.
- Gastrointestinal complications.
- Neurological impairment.
- Liver damage.
The Psychological Effects of Ketamine
Psychologically, ketamine can induce a range of immediate effects. These can range from mild euphoria to intense hallucinations. Some people will also dissociate, which is when someone’s grasp on reality is essentially compromised, and they become unsure of who they are.
Long-term impacts are a little more complex. Although it can offer rapid relief in depression, chronic abuse may lead to adverse reactions and cognitive deficits, which might worsen certain mental health conditions. The potential for dependency and addiction is also a serious concern, which is why careful management in medical settings is absolutely essential.
The Common Risks and Side Effects of Ketamine Use
Ketamine use, whether medically administered or recreationally consumed, carries risks.
Common side effects of ketamine use include:
- Visual and/or auditory hallucinations.
- Red or flushed skin.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Panic attacks.
- Dissociative episodes.
- Overdose risks (especially when taken in high doses and at the same time as other substances, such as alcohol).
Find Help for Ketamine Addiction Today
We hope you’ve found our article on the effects ketamine use can have informative. If you’re struggling with drug abuse and feel you would benefit from a little support, please reach out to us today. Our team of understanding addiction experts have helped many who have been where you are right now. Don’t suffer in silence – let us help you find the right support for your unique requirements.
Reach out to us today at 0800 012 6088 for more information on how we can help those struggling with ketamine use.
-  The University of Exeter is leading a relatively new study - https://news-archive.exeter.ac.uk/homepage/title_953210_en.html
-  a reported prevalence of 3.8% in the year ending March 2023 - https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/drugmisuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2023
-  it's classed as a Class B drug - https://www.gov.uk/penalties-drug-possession-dealing
-  complete sensory detachment leads to the "K-hole - https://www.healthline.com/health/k-hole#what-it-is
-  Some people also report not being able to feel pain when actively using ketamine - https://www.talktofrank.com/drug/ketamine#the-risks
-  linked to more severe consequences - https://www.talktofrank.com/drug/ketamine#the-risks
-  someone's grasp on reality is essentially compromised - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders/about-dissociation/