Like most forms of hallucinogen, ketamine is regulated under the controlled substances act by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Unlike other hallucinogens, however, ketamine does have some medical uses which means its classification is slightly different. Read below to learn more.

Is ketamine a controlled substance?

Ketamine has been used in the U.S. as an injectable anesthetic since the 1970s. In 1999, ketamine became a Schedule III non-narcotic substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This means the substance has a medical purpose but also holds the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Ketamine is only available via prescription from a licensed medical professional.[1]

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There are different types of ketamine used for different medical purposes as well as those used for illegal drug abuse. 

There are two main types of ketamine used in the treatment of major depression for those who have been treatment-resistant to two or more formal antidepressant medications. 

Racemic ketamine is administered via infusion into the bloodstream and is sometimes referred to as IV ketamine. This form of the drug is used as an anaesthetic and an off label medication for depression treatment. It was approved for medical use by the FDA in the late 90s.

Esketamine, also known as Spravato, is a nasal spray that was approved by the FDA in more recent years. 

Illicit ketamine, sometimes called special K or ket, is often obtained in powder form that is snorted or diluted in liquid. 

Despite the disparity in ketamine’s medical properties and a high potential for abuse, it remains a Schedule III substance, meaning it carries lower criminal proceedings than schedule I or II substances.

Is selling or intending to sell ketamine a felony?

The criminal repercussions and prosecutions for selling or intending to sell schedule III substances like ketamine vary from state to state. However, selling or intending to sell a controlled substance illegally will often carry heavy prosecution.[2] 

For example, in Pennsylvania, criminal sentencing for selling or intending to sell a Schedule III substance can lead to up to five years of prison time and fines of up to $15,000.[2]

Sentences can also vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the individual case. For example, a judge will consider heavier or reduced penalties based on the amount of the substance found in the accused's possession, the involvement of weapons or violence, prior convictions, and the age of intended distribution targets (e.g. selling in or around schools).

Is possession of ketamine a felony?

As with selling and intention to sell charges for ketamine, possession charges also differ from state to state. Using Pennsylvania law as an example again, illegal possession of ketamine (that is any amount of the substance found on a person or in their possession without a valid prescription) can lead to criminal charges. 

Prosecution for possession of ketamine will involve identifying whether the person charged was aware of specific criteria. These criteria include:[3]

  • Intentionally and knowingly had control of an illegal drug

  • Knew that the drug was illegal

  • Having ketamine in their system at the time of arrest (if a toxicology test was performed)

  • Had the intention of using or controlling the drug

  • Had actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance 

Convictions for possession of ketamine will vary depending on whether it is a first offence, whether other illegal drugs were present, and whether the offender was under the influence of the drug during the arrest (this can carry additional charges if the offender was committing another offence while under the influence, such as reckless driving).

Under Pennsylvania law, possession of ketamine can carry up to a one-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine. It will also result in your drivers licence being suspended for six months for a first offence, one year for a second, and two years for a third. Read here to learn more about drugs and crime