Updated: 24 February 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Celeste Small
Ketamine is an anesthetic that is used in human medical procedures but is most commonly used in veterinary treatment. When abused, Ketamine produces hallucinogenic effects as well as muscle relaxation and loss of coordination.
Ketamine is sometimes used in medical settings, such as to sedate children who have had adverse reactions to other anesthetic medications, as well as in radiation and burn therapy.
When taken in high doses, the dissociative anesthetic effect of ketamine causes sedation, which can lead to people experiencing out-of-body-like feelings and a detachment from reality.
Ketamine powder is the most commonly abused form of the drug. It is a white crystalline substance that is crushed and snorted, normally through rolled-up notes or straws.
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Ketamine is a powerful dissociative anesthetic used in humans but most commonly used on animals, most notably on horses. Ketamine produces hallucinogenic effects in humans when abused, making it a popular drug in the club and rave scene. Common nicknames for Ketamine include special K, Kit kat, and vitamin K.
Ketamine is sometimes used in medical settings, such as to sedate children who have had adverse reactions to other anesthetic medications, as well as in radiation and burn therapy. It is also used in situations where sedation is necessary but stronger anesthetics may be too much for the individual to handle.
What does ketamine feel like?
When taken in high doses, the dissociative anesthetic effect of ketamine causes sedation, which can lead to people experiencing out-of-body-like feelings and a detachment from reality. Ketamine also sedates the body, making movement sluggish and adversely affecting balance and coordination. It also distorts perception and can cause hallucinations as well as distorted hearing and vision. The dissociative nature of the drug causes those who take it in high doses to become unable to speak or function, a condition commonly referred to as a ”K-hole”.
How do people take ketamine?
When Ketamine is used in a medical setting, it is often injected as a liquid to induce relaxation and sleep. It is also available in other forms which are more commonly abused.
Ketamine powder is the most commonly abused form of the drug. It is a white crystalline substance that is crushed and snorted, normally through rolled-up notes or straws. Some people take smaller amounts called “bumps” either off their hands or from the tip of a key.
Ketamine liquid is rarer than powdered ketamine as an abused substance, but some inject themselves with it in order to get a more powerful high.
Ketamine tablets are less common but can still be obtained and abused. Tablets take longer to have an effect but can be more intense.
Bombing ketamine is another oral method of taking the drug, where the powdered form of the drug is wrapped in a cigarette paper and swallowed.
Effects of abusing ketamine
Ketamine acts as a dissociative hallucinogenic tranquilizer that can cause a sense of relaxation through the whole body as well as mild to moderate hallucinations and dissociation from reality. Hallucinogens such as mescaline, ayahuasca, and psilocybin tend to last for around eight hours while a high from ketamine will typically last around an hour and will begin to take effect 10-20 minutes after first taking the substance.
When taken in large amounts, the dissociative qualities of ketamine are heightened, with users reporting out-of-body experiences, lack of motor function, and loss of communication skills. This condition, commonly referred to as a K-hole, can be highly dangerous as the individual is unable to control their bodies properly which may lead to accidents.
Adverse side effects of ketamine can include:
Increased heart rate
Elevated blood pressure
Flashbacks of hallucinations
Long-term cognitive difficulties
Effects of ketamine with other substances
The anesthetic effects of ketamine can have hazardous side effects when taken with other drugs, notably central nervous systems (CNS) depressants such as opioids or alcohol. CNS depressants lower the respiratory rate, which can lead to problems breathing when mixed with the tranquilizing effects of ketamine.
Partygoers also often mix ketamine with cocaine in order to balance the effects of both and produce a larger high. This combination is often referred to as “CK”. CK can be dangerous as cocaine raises the heart rate while ketamine relaxes muscles and increases blood flow, which may lead to heart-related issues.
Ketamine affects everyone differently, often based on physical attributes and substance abuse history. This makes it hard for the user to determine how much is enough and can lead to an overdose. Even experienced users can overdose as they will often take more of the drug in order to reach the dissociative nature of the K-hole. A ketamine overdose can result in a total loss of mobility, which can lead to respiratory failure and in extreme cases, death.
Addiction to Ketamine
Ketamine addiction is rare but can happen. As the drug alters brain function, it is possible for a person to become physically and psychologically dependent on ketamine. Once dependence on a substance has taken hold, it often causes negative consequences to an individual's life. This is how addiction is measured, with the more negative consequences accumulated the more severe the addiction.
Signs of ketamine addiction include:
Increasing the amount of use
Becoming obsessed with the next hit
Spending excessive amounts of money on the drug
Failing to keep up with responsibilities such as school and work
Building up a tolerance and needing more and more to feel the high
Neglecting friends and family
Once dependence on ketamine has formed and addiction is established, getting free of the drug can be extremely difficult. Attending a dedicated addiction treatment center or residential rehab facility greatly increases the chances of recovery from ketamine addiction and can provide therapy and support for long-term sobriety. Visit our rehab directory to find ketamine addiction treatment near you.
Here are some of the questions we're most commonly asked about ketamine:
Is ketamine a controlled substance?
Most hallucinogens have a higher Schedule under the Controlled Substances Act as they have no little to no medical value and can be abused. As ketamine is used for medical purposes, such as an alternative treatment for depression, its scheduling is a little more complicated. Read here to find out more about ketamine and its schedule status.
How long does ketamine stay in your body?
Despite having a relatively short half-life, traces of the drug can be found in the body long after the last use. The detection rate of the drug can also change from person to person can vary depending on a range of factors. Read our guide to find out more about how long ketamine stays in your system.
Can ketamine help with depression?
Ketamine has been growing in popularity as an alternative course of treatment for those suffering from severe depression and who have proven to be resistant to conventional antidepressant medications. Read here to find out more about ketamine as a form of depression treatment and how it works.