Ketamine Abuse and Addiction: A Trip or A Terror

Ketamine's technical history stretches back to 1962 when it came onto the market as a replacement anesthetic for PCP. However, the advent of the 1970s brought new enthusiasm for psychedelics and it was during this era that the drug first became popular for its hallucinogenic effects.

Primarily used legitimately in the medical field for veterinary anesthetic purposes today, Ketamine (K, Special K, Vitamin K) has recently become a staple for many in the club scene. But with this recreational use also comes a heightened risk of ketamine abuse and addiction, the results of which can have some life-threatening consequences. What's more, the actual high of this potent hallucinogen can actually end up being quite terrifying.

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Ketamine: A Closer Look

Ketamine is a chemical compound that's most commonly used in beginning and maintaining anesthesia. Beyond that, it also has dissociative properties as well, meaning it tends to make users feel detached from their bodies and from reality as a whole.

In addition to these properties, K also tends to produce perceptual distortions, dreamlike states, hallucinations, delirium, and amnesia.

With this list of side effects, it's no wonder that ketamine has become so popular in certain circles, namely on the club scene. Many users take this drug to intensify the visual and auditory effects of nightclubs, concerts, bars, and other nightlife venues.

In fact, Special K use in these circles has actually doubled in certain parts of the world.

Young people are especially affected by the rise of this drug as there's a close correlation between college aged individuals and club drug use and abuse.

How Does Special K Work?

The full account of how K works in the brain isn't completely understood, even today.

What we do know about this powerful drug is that it's structure and pharmacology closely resemble that of PCP.

According to the DEA, Vitamin K has activity at the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors (like PCP), and also binds to the mu opioid receptors (like opioids) as well. The combination of these different properties helps it to create the effects of sedation, immobility, amnesia, and analgesia in users.

In most cases, ketamine is either snorted or directly injected into the body. The actual onset and duration of the drug tends to depend on the method of its abuse but the effects generally end up lasting anywhere from 40 to 80 minutes.


Street Names of Ketamine

Many illicit substances have what are called "street names." These terms are used to refer to a substance in a way that may not draw as much attention from authorities and also act as a short-hand way to talk about a drug.

The better you're able to recognize these names, the more easily you'll be able to determine if someone you know has a ketamine abuse problem.

Some of the most common ones are:

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

As ketamine is also used for legal purposes, there are a number of different brand names that use ketamine as its active ingredient. These include:

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

And finally, there is one more term worth familiarizing yourself with when it comes to ketamine abuse and addiction and that's what's known as a "k-hole." This is the term used to describe when Special K's dissociative effects are so intense that it feels like you're literally stuck inside a hole in your own mind.

Many people describe this feeling as a terrifying experience where you're trapped inside your own body but unable to interact with anything outside of it.


Why Are People Addicted to Ketamine?

People are drawn to K for a number of reasons.

There are so many negative effects of painkillers. Unfortunately, most people will overlook them for months, or even years. Their goal is to get high, and they will manage the effects of their medications in other ways. The side effects of pain pills include: Bouts of constipation, Pinpoint pupils, Problems with coordination, Drowsiness, and Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

The first is the euphoria and visual distortions that may result from its abuse. This is especially popular among people who frequent concerts, clubs, raves, and other sensory-heavy experiences.

For others, it can mean something "serene, distant, surreal, wonderful, strange, weird, bizarre, absurdistic, confusing, deep," as one user put it.

Similar to other hallucinogens such as LSD or DMT, abusing Ket can lead to both positive (some claim life-changing) and negative (or terrifying) experiences. Sometimes the outcome of these experiences depends on details like where you choose to take the drug. Other times it could depend entirely on how your day went.

But no matter how much control you think you have over the situation, the truth is that abusing hallucinogens like these can be a nerve-wracking and entirely unpredictable event.

Four Distinct Phases of K Use

Frequent users and those closely involved in the world of Vitamin K abuse tend to group notable experiences into four distinct categories, each with their own specific qualities:

  • The "God" Experience - Special K users tend to describe this phase as believing they have complete control over the world around them. Of course, this is only a delusion (and one that can lead to some dangerous consequences).
  • The "K-Hole" Experience - This is probably the most well-known ketamine experience. It's characterized by feeling like you are sinking deeper and deeper into a bottomless hole which, as you can imagine, can end up being quite terrifying.
  • The "Baby Food" Experience - K abusers equate this phase to the immobility and helplessness of being a newborn child. This is considered one of the more pleasurable experiences because it represents a return to a simpler time.
  • The "K-Land" Experience - A mild and dreamy euphoria, this experience is the one that most people are looking for when they take Ketamine.

How to Tell If Someone Is Doing Ketamine

If you're trying to determine if someone is abusing Special K, there are a number of signs you can look for.

Lack of coordination and an inability to focus is one. A study featured in Wired magazine looked at 62 party goers in Hong Kong to see which were displaying signs of ketamine intoxication, and which of their saliva samples matched up with the research team's observations.

The team found that body temperature and blood pressure (two bodily processes that are greatly affected by the drug) were not very good indicators of who had taken the K earlier.

In fact, the team found that an inability to balance on one leg for 30 seconds or walk a straight line and turn on cue were two of the best indicators for who had used K.

There are, of course, a variety of other signs to look for as well including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Confusion
  • Sedation
  • Agitation
  • Amnesia
  • Depressed respiration
  • Overactive salivation

While the physical signs of using Special K are certainly easy to spot, one of the hardest things about any substance use disorder is recognizing the signs of addiction in yourself.

Sometimes, it helps to take a step back and look at some of the biggest indicators that you may be developing a serious problem. Cravings, withdrawals, and poor decisions are just some of the signs to be on the lookout for.

You can also take a quick 5 minutes to participate in a brief online quiz for an even more objective evaluation. Not only is it quick and painless, it'll also give you a much better idea of whether or not you're developing an actual addiction or if it's just series of abuses.

And finally, you can also have a look at the actual diagnostic questionnaire used by psychiatrists and medical professionals across the country, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-V.

This brief but comprehensive 11-scenario survey will not only take you little to no time to run through, it will also give you the exact criteria that medical professionals actually use to evaluate if someone has a substance use disorder.


How Long Does Ket Last?

As with many other illicit substances, the effects, duration, and onset all have to do with how the drug is taken.

The most common method for most people is to abuse K by snorting it. This results in an onset of around 5 to 15 minutes along with a duration of the high that lasts around 40 to 60 minutes. Beyond that, the after effects will typically persist for about 1 to 3 hours.

When taken orally through a "bomb" (wrapping the drug in tissue or cigarette paper and swallowing it), the onset is typically around 5 to 20 minutes with a duration of an hour and a half. The after effects for this method will likely last about 40 to 80 minutes.

And when taken by injection, the drug will take effect in about 1 to 5 minutes with a duration of about 50 to 60 minutes. The after effects through this method will likely last about 2 to 4 hours long.

Short-Term Symptoms of Abusing Ketamine

According to NIDA, some of the most common short-term side effects for dissociative substances like K include:

  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Increase in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased respiration and body temperature
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Changes in sensory perceptions
  • Feelings of being detached from yourself and reality
  • Memory loss
  • Fear
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Aggression
  • Respiratory distress

What's more, abusing ketamine in large quantities can also lead to potentially fatal overdose. As such, recognizing the signs of overdose and getting emergency help immediately could end up saving a life.

Long-Term Side Effects of Ketamine Abuse

One of the most notable long-term effects of K abuse is that each instance of abuse increases the risk of a physical and psychological addiction. What's more, the method you use to take Special K can also affect your chances of addiction, with intravenous injection being the worst.

However, the other long-term effects of dissociative drugs like Ket and many psychoactive hallucinogens have not actually been investigated systematically. As such, it can be difficult to accurately say what kinds of symptoms frequent ketamine abusers will likely experience.

One study, however, noted a variety of long-term side effects of using Special K for a prolonged and sustained period of time. Some of these effects included:

  • Impaired thinking ability
  • Reduced psychological well-being
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Decreased visual memory
  • Disturbances in verbal memory

Additionally, given its similarity in both structure and pharmacology to PCP, it may be helpful to take a look this drug's noted long-term effects.

Beyond a proven risk of developing both a physical and psychological dependency, persistent PCP use has been shown to result in:

  • Speech difficulties
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal

Given these long-term effects, it's absolutely critical that you seek help for your ketamine addiction as soon as possible. Otherwise, you just may find yourself experiencing all of the above.

Signs of Ketamine Overdose

One of the most notable long-term effects of K abuse is that each instance of abuse increases the risk of a physical and psychological addiction. What's more, the method you use to take Special K can also affect your chances of addiction, with intravenous injection being the worst.

The signs of ketamine overdose according to the National Institutes of Health include:

  • Sedation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Tachycardia
  • Dizziness
  • Altered mental status
  • Anxiety
  • Slurred speech
  • Hallucinations
  • Palpitations
  • Nystagmus
  • Mydriasis
  • Delirium
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Hypertension

Ketamine: A Terror or A Trip, But Never Worth the Risk

While many people may find the effects of Ket to be quite enjoyable, especially in the club scene, the truth is that abusing this powerful drug simply isn't worth the risks.

It has a long list of both short-term and long-term effects, it may cause a number of risky and potentially life-threatening behaviors, and the actual high of the drug may leave you feeling like you're literally trapped in a bottomless hole.

Instead of continuing down your path of ketamine abuse then, the better choice is to get some help kicking your Ket habit to the curb and opening your eyes to a clear and sober life - no k-holes here.

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