Effects of Ketamine Use: Short-Term, Long-Term, Side Effects, and Treatment
Is Ketamine Harmful?
“It’s easy to get ketamine abuse wrong because of its potency; it’s more powerful than speed or coke weight for weight, so it’s easy to accidentally overdose.”
Like its sister drug CP, ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic, and it’s popular on the party scene thanks to its high and dissociative effects. However, it’s easy to get ketamine abuse wrong because of its potency; it’s more powerful than speed or coke weight for weight, so it’s easy to accidentally overdose.
Ketamine is typically injected or snorted, but it can be smoked or taken in pill form. The effects of smoking it or swallowing it tend to be less intense than those of directly injecting it. In some cases, it’s used as a date rape drug, as it’s odorless and colorless.
Short-Term Effects of Ketamine
Ketamine produces an abrupt high that lasts for about an hour. It starts around 2 to 5 minutes after the dose has been smoked or swallowed. With injection, it happens around 30 seconds after the injection has occurred.
The first feeling of the high that the user will get is an overwhelming feeling of relaxation, sometimes described as a full-body buzz. Some users feel like they’re floating and some even describe it as being out of their bodies. Many experience hallucinations that can last longer than the anesthetic effects.
Higher doses can produce more intense effects, with users reporting complete and utter detachment from their bodies. The effects are similar to those described by people who have had near-death experiences, and it’s described as being in a “K-hole.”
Dangerous Ketamine Side Effects
The drug does, of course, have side effects, and these can be quite profound. Short-term ketamine side effects include bad hallucinations. As with all psychotropic drugs, the pleasantness of the hallucination depends on the user’s state of mind, and if the user is seeking to escape unhappiness, the hallucinations are likely to be unpleasant.
Naturally, the side effects of ketamine include:
- Disorientation and general confusion due to the drug’s anesthetic nature.
- Increased heart rate.
- Elevated blood pressure.
Large doses of the drug can result in what some describe as a “K-hole,” which can include intense and unpleasant visual and auditory hallucinations coupled with marked derealization and a frightening detachment from reality.
Perhaps more acutely problematic, users can also become quite nauseated. If this progresses to vomiting, it can be very dangerous, as those in the midst of a state of dissociated confusion frequently end up supine—presenting a serious choking hazard. If you do see someone on ketamine, take a moment to roll them on their side or into the recovery position if possible to prevent this from happening. Promptly call 911 to get emergency medical assistance.
Dangerous Ketamine Long-Term Effects
Powdered ketamine is often cut with other drugs, so it’s very hard to tell what the long-term effects will be—interactions can be very unpredictable. Consequently, the long-term effects are varied, but they fall into several main areas.
As with any anesthetic, ketamine reduces—or even eliminates—pain. It’s hard for users to tell whether they’ve injured themselves, so they can end up hurting themselves severely. Some people have suffered from broken legs and effectively crippled themselves because they couldn’t tell that something wasn’t right. Walking on a broken leg can result in compound fractures, penetration of the skin, sepsis, and serious nerve damage.
Once the effects of ketamine have worn off, users might experience severe abdominal pain. It can also cause a thickening of the bladder and urinary tract, and this can force some long-term addicts to have their bladders removed as the walls are too thick and prevent urine from passing through.
Other issues include kidney problems, which are caused by the drug’s interaction with the kidneys as it is reduced into its metabolites.
Amphetamines should never be mixed with ketamine because they can cause very high blood pressure.
Although the ketamine high can be extremely pleasant, it can lead to serious dependence. While you can build up a high tolerance to the drug without experiencing withdrawal, if your life is revolving around using, you need to seek help. Detox doesn’t have to result in withdrawal symptoms.
If you find that you’re in trouble with the law as a result of using ketamine and don’t want to give it up, you may well have an addiction. You might find that it’s causing you severe financial difficulties, or you may realize that it has resulted in you spending more money than you can afford.
You may also have experienced severe side effects but still be taking the drug. Alternatively, you might be committing illegal or morally questionable acts because of it. However it manifests itself, if you have an addiction to ketamine, you need to seek help.
Ketamine Withdrawal Treatment
Ketamine withdrawal treatment aims to help you get off the drug and stay off it. First, you’ll likely undergo withdrawal. Some of the literature in the addiction treatment sphere mentions cases of reported anxiety and/or depression following cessation of ketamine use. However, for many ketamine abusers, withdrawal isn’t a major issue, as ketamine doesn’t produce a clinically significant withdrawal syndrome. This minimizes the need for close medical supervision throughout the period of withdrawal—allowing those in recovery to move forward and focus on the second stage of their treatment.
Counseling and psychotherapy help you understand how and why you’re abusing ketamine. Whether you have depression or find it hard to de-stress, psychotherapy can help you address the central underlying reasons you take it. Counseling can help you to resist the lure of the high and find healthy ways to relax and enjoy yourself without turning to drug use. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is particularly valuable for this.
The final stage is, of course, sustained recovery, and this is often the hardest stage. This is often the stage where relapse (going back to using a drug) happens, but with support and the skills learned in treatment, you can reduce the risk of this happening.
Find Ketamine Treatment Programs
If you or a loved one is struggling with ketamine misuse, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional treatment can start anyone battling addiction on the path to a healthier and happier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and a variety of treatment types is available. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for facilities. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehab programs across the country. Please contact AAC free at for more information on treatment options, helpful advice, or admissions.