Ketamine Abuse and Addiction: What You Need to Know About This Terrifying Drug

Ketamine is a dissociative hallucinogenic that can cause auditory and visual sensory distortions, sedation, and even complete dissociation from reality.

It’s an addictive and dangerous substance that holds the potential for causing physical and psychological dependency.

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Ketamine Street Names

Just like other illicit substances, ketamine has a variety of street names that help make its illegal purchasing easier and less conspicuous.

Learning to identify these street names can help you spot the signs of Ketamine abuse and addiction in others. 

A few of the most common ones according to the DEA include:

  • Cat Tranquilizer
  • Cat Valium
  • Jet
  • Jet K
  • K
  • Kit Kat
  • Purple
  • Special K
  • Special LA Coke
  • Super Acid
  • Super K
  • Vitamin K

In addition to these street names, Ketamine is also used in a variety of legal prescription drugs such as:

  • Ketalar
  • Ketajet
  • Ketaset (animal use)
  • Ketavet (animal use)
  • Vetalar (animal use)
  • Vetaket (animal use) 

While not necessarily a street name, another slang term that applies to Ketamine abuse is “K-Hole,” the name given to when Vitamin K’s dissociative effects become overwhelming and the sufferer feels almost entirely separated from reality.

Ketamine in the Medical Field

Ketamine, more commonly known as “Special K,” is a dissociative anesthetic that’s mainly used in the medical field to both start and maintain anesthesia. It allows doctors to perform complex and invasive surgical procedures without waking the patient or causing pain. 

Ketamine is particularly common in veterinary surgeries, a characteristic that has spawned a variety of animal-related street names (e.g. Cat Valium, Cat Tranquilizer).

Its technical classification in the medical field is an NMDA receptor antagonist meaning it essentially blocks the action of the brain’s N-Methyl-D-aspartate receptor. 

Ketamine Addiction

A Brief History of Ketamine

Ketamine was first synthesized in 1962 by Calvin Stevens, an American scientist, as an anesthetic alternative to PCP. Since its beginnings in the medical field, PCP had been used to sedate patients but would often lead to extreme agitation and severe hallucinogenic effects. 

While K was a common drug for administering anesthesia for a time, it’s now mainly used in the veterinary field as it may also cause undesirable hallucinatory effects in human patients. 

Illicit use of Special K grew in the 70s and 80s alongside the rise of other party drugs like ecstasy and cocaine due to its environmentally distorting and enhancing effects.

Abusing Ketamine

Like many other chemicals created specifically for application in the medical field, Ket is also used illicitly by individuals in order to achieve a buzz similar to PCP. Continued abuse of Vitamin K in this manner can, and does, lead to physical dependency and eventual addiction. 

Ketamine comes in the form of a powder or a liquid. Its typical methods of abuse are snorting, injecting, and smoking. It can also be mixed into drinks as well, making it a common drug used for facilitating sexual abuse

Given this potential for abuse, Ketamine is currently labeled as a schedule III drug in the United States and a schedule I in Canada.

Ketamine Club Drug

Special K and The Club Scene

Club drugs are a set of substances that are most commonly used in a party atmosphere. The loud music and vibrant visuals of this environment are further intensified by these types of drugs and are generally enjoyed by teens and young adults alike.

These environments might include:

  • Bars
  • Nightclubs
  • Concerts
  • Parties
  • Dance Clubs
  • Raves 

Vitamin K is considered to be one of the most common club drugs in use today. Its dissociative effects leave abusers feeling like they’re in a dreamlike state and at higher doses can actually cause visual hallucinations as well. 

One particular danger with using Ketamine in this type of environment is the fact that more often than not there are other intoxicating substances involved as well. In addition to other illicit drugs (like cocaine, meth, and ecstasy), many club scenes involve consuming high amounts of alcohol. 

When also abusing Ketamine, drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to:

  • Especially decreased motor skills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Dangerously low respiration
  • Life threatening conditions like becoming comatose

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Ket and Sexual Assault

In addition to Rohypnol and GHB, Ketamine is one of the most common “date rape drugs” today. These substances are used to reduce inhibition, erase memory, sedate, and ultimately cause individuals to be unable to refuse sexual advances. 

Many times, these substances are slipped into a victim’s drink and often have no obvious color, smell, or taste, making it difficult to know at the time if you have been drugged at all. 

Unlike GHB and Rohypnol which can take up to 15 and 30 minutes to take effect, Ket is incredibly fast-acting and, thus, can be especially dangerous. What’s more, K can cause memory loss and an out-of-body type experience, making it difficult to know whether a sexual assault was in fact real or imagined.

Why Are People Addicted to Ketamine?

Like nearly any other substance, continued use and abuse of Ketamine may lead to K or even Ketalar addiction. There are a few factors at play here, namely positive association and tolerance.

Positive association is the body’s natural way of continually rewarding certain behaviors. Eating certain foods, for instance, brings with it a sense of reward demonstrated by pleasing flavors and the satisfaction felt after a good meal. 

Drugs highjack these systems by tricking our bodies into producing these rewards. The pleasurable effects of Ketamine abuse are a direct result of this and consequently can cause some people to physically crave it.

As the body becomes more and more used to the presence of these chemicals, it changes its natural processes to compensate for them. This is called tolerance. 

When combined with the positive association of drugs, tolerance causes dependent individuals to need more and more of a drug to feel the same effects. As a result, they begin taking Ketamine in higher amounts and eventually become addicted.

You may be wondering, “How do I know if I am addicted to Ketamine?” 

In general, the best way to determine if you have a substance use disorder (with Special K or any other drug) is by talking to a qualified addiction specialist. 

There are other ways to help you determine if you should seek help though. You can, for instance, take an addiction quiz to give you an idea of your addiction level. 

You can also self-evaluate using the criteria for a substance use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders reproduced below: 

  • Have you taken K more than you intended?
  • Have you unsuccessfully tried to stop using K?
  • Do you spend a lot of time trying to find Special K?
  • Do you have frequent cravings for Ketamine?
  • Is its abuse cutting into your ability to fulfill obligations?
  • Is it causing significant social or interpersonal problems?
  • Have you abandoned activities you used to enjoy because of K?
  • Do you take it in physically dangerous situations?
  • Do you continue to abuse Ketamine even when you know it’s affecting your physical or mental health?
  • Have you experienced Ketamine tolerance?
  • Have you experienced Ketamine withdrawals? 

If at least two of these situations describe your Ket use, the DSM-V considers you to have a problematic pattern of abuse that may indicate K addiction.

Special K is taken primarily for its hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. These distortions of reality can in some instances be pleasurable, especially when combined with intensely sensorial experiences like clubbing or going to a concert. 

Some people may also experience an intensification of feelings and experiences as well. 

One of the main aspects associated with Ketamine is that it can produce what feels like an out-of-body experience. These experiences are characterized by feeling separated from your body and what you know as reality. 

For some, this might lead to a terrifying plunge into an anxiety-ridden state where you feel completely unable to interact with the world around you. This is known as a K-Hole. 

Spotting someone high on Ket can be difficult, especially within a party setting. Looking for signs of sedation is one of the methods of how to tell if someone is doing Ketamine. Users who are completely unresponsive should seek medical help immediately

It is possible to overdose on Ketamine and in higher doses it has been shown to lead to cardiac and respiratory problems that may be life-threatening.

As mentioned above, Ketamine is famous for its ability to separate people from reality when taken in especially high doses. 

For injection, this typically occurs at 60 to 125mgs while a K-Hole from snorting may happen anywhere from 100 to 250mgs. 

Some users have described it as a complete disconnect from your sensations which, for many, can be quite terrifying. Others say the experience is like being trapped inside your mind where everything seems incredibly far away. 

And when you couple these feelings with almost complete immobility (another common side-effect of Special K), you’re likely to experience a heightened sense of anxiety and panic. 

While a K-Hole probably won’t last as long as other drugs like LSD, since time is distorted it can end up feeling like an eternity.

Short-Term Special K Drug Side Effects

Dissociative drugs in general have a long list of short-term effects. At low to moderate doses, they’ve been shown to lead to:

  • Numbness
  • Confusion, loss of coordination, dizziness, and disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Altered sensory perceptions including sight, sound, shapes, time, and body image
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of detachment from your body and environment
  • Heightened blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and body temperature 

At higher doses, these effects can become intensified. What’s more, you may also experience:

  • Memory loss
  • Physical distress that could include dangerous changes in automatic functions like respiration and heart rate
  • Sedation
  • Extreme psychological distress that could include overwhelming panic, fear, anxiety, aggression, and paranoia (drug-induced psychosis)
  • Immobility
  • A terrifying complete loss of touch with reality which has been likened to a near-death experience or a bad LSD trip (a.k.a. a “K-hole”)
  • Potentially fatal respiratory distress or arrest when combined with other substances like alcohol

Long-Term Special K Drug Side Effects

While the long-term effects of prolonged K abuse still have to be evaluated by more rigorous scientific study, there are a few known effects that this powerful drug can have on your body over time. 

Cognitive functioning, for instance, is likely to be negatively impacted and may manifest as an inability to: 

  • Recognize patterns as well
  • Focus for long periods of time
  • Make decisions effectively
  • Maintain spatial orientation 

Another long-term Ketamine drug side effect is called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, better known as “flashbacks.” Similar to LSD, Ketamine may induce a variety of sensory hallucinations with little warning, whether an individual is currently on the drug or not. 

Special K has also been linked to bladder toxicity in a condition known as ketamine-induced cystitis. This condition is brought on by continued erosion of the bladder’s epithelial lining and can result in chronic pain that may never get better with time.

Ketamine Withdrawal and Detox

One of the most common questions among Ket abusers is can you go through withdrawal from ketamine? 

And the answer is a resounding yes

Although Ketamine addiction doesn’t carry with it one of the most demanding detoxification processes (compared to other drugs like opioids or meth), it can still be incredibly difficult to get through the process without the support of a qualified medical professional. 

In general, Vitamin K addicts will likely experience:

  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced concentration 

While the majority of the worst Special K withdrawal symptoms are psychological in nature, there are a few physical effects of Ketamine cessation you should be aware of before choosing to detox.

These physical effects include:

  • Irregular heart beat and increased heart rate
  • Increased respiration
  • Loss of coordination and motor skills
  • Double vision and hearing loss 

Although the detox process can be quite uncomfortable, it is undoubtedly part of the most essential steps of recovery. In fact, it’s one of the first.

Getting Treatment for Your Ketamine Addiction

One of the most proven methods of kicking your substance use disorder for good is by getting proper treatment from a qualified rehabilitation center. 

If you or someone you know has a K problem, it’s essential that you get the necessary help as soon as possible to fully recover.

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