what is ketamine

Updated 13/02/20

Ketamine is one of the lesser talked about drugs when it comes to drug abuse and addiction, perhaps because it is mostly associated with the party scene, recreational use and medicinal use. Nevertheless, it is very addictive and produces powerful euphoria as well as a whole bunch of much sought after effects by those that abuse it.

Being addicted is not only very damaging to your physical health but has a tremendous negative impact on your mental, social and financial well-being too. If you or someone you care for is struggling with a ketamine addiction, you will know this only too well.

Rehab Guide feel it is essential that if you have a dependence, or, even if you are only thinking about experimenting with some ketamine that you know the full facts. Ketamine can be deadly when abused.

In 2015 the Office for National Statistics recorded 12 deaths where ketamine was involved in England and Wales (1). While deaths have not been recorded in more recent years, this does not necessarily mean that there have been no deaths where it has been involved. Approximately half of the deaths recorded in 2015 also involved alcohol (1) Combining party drugs with alcohol is known to be a widespread problem.  Addiction and abuse are a real problem for some individuals.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine is classified as a Class B controlled drug in the UK and is a hallucinogenic dissociative. While many label as a ‘designer party drug’,  it was initially developed over 50 years ago with its primary use being medical anaesthesia. It wasn’t until the 1970s that ketamine actually hit the streets, firstly in Los Angeles, and then began to be abused by people (3)

Ketamine is a very powerful drug with potent effects. It is medically used on both humans and animals for its strong painkilling and anaesthetic properties. In the veterinary field, it is often used to anaesthetise horses, leading to the familiar nickname of ‘horse tranquiliser ‘.

When used in a medical environment, it has advantages over other anaesthetics and is generally safe to use. Firstly it does not collapse the airways, so it is often considered the safer option for quick but painful procedures, i.e. resetting a bone or putting a dislocated joint back into its socket. The powerful painkilling effects and dissociative properties mean that the patient cannot usually recall pain or events while under its influence (3)

Ketamine is not often the type of drug that is prescribed for use outside of a hospital environment. This is due to its effects being very unpredictable in some individuals. It is, however, sometimes prescribed in cases of chronic and severe pain when the pain stops responding to less powerful painkillers.

Likewise, it is also generally abused as a “recreational” drug, due to its hallucinogenic, tranquillising and dissociative effects. On the streets, the ketamine drug most commonly comes in the form of a white/brown grainy powder. In a medical environment, it comes as a clear liquid that is usually administered intravenously. Ketamine pills are also available to be taken orally on prescription (4)

Slang terms and code words for ketamine in the UK

Slang terms, ketamine street names and code words in the UK include:

Vitamin K, Special K, Donkey dust, K, Ket, Wonk, Kit Kat, Black hole, Cat valium, Super C (5)

The short term effects when abused

Ketamine, when abused, can be snorted, commonly referred to as taking a bump. It can also be injected as a solution or swallowed in a pill. In the UK, snorting is the most common form of abuse.

Ketamine side effects are almost instant and can last for up to 24 hours before the drug leaves your system.

The short term effects of abusing ketamine include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Dissociation
  • Reduced perception of pain
  • Dizziness
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Double vision
  • Impaired decision making (risk-taking)
  • Higher risk of serious injury – higher risk-taking and unable to relate to pain
  • Amnesia
  • Nightmares
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Ketamine overdose – this can lead to coma and death

Approximately 40 per cent of users will experience the above symptoms when they abuse this drug (6)

The long term effects of abuse

Taking ketamine off prescription for a prolonged period can cause severe consequences to your health. The long term effects of abuse include:

  • Tolerance and addiction
  • Cravings for ketamine
  • Cognitive impairment and loss of ability to learn new things
  • Memory problems and problems in retaining information
  • Visual impairment
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • ‘Ketamine bladder.’
  • Kidney damage
  • Depression and other mental health problems
  • Increased anxiety, blurred vision and panic attacks
  • Suicidal ideation (6)

The longer you abuse ketamine for and the more you take, the more likely you are to suffer severe physical and mental health implications. Taking the drug frequently and for prolonged periods leads to drug tolerance; this means that you will have to take an increasing amount of the drug to feel its effects. Once tolerance has occurred, you are more likely to develop a physical and mental dependence to it, i.e. addiction.

If you are addicted and want professional help to stop, please call and speak with one of our addiction treatment experts on 02072052845 or 0141 427 3491

How long does ketamine last?

Ketamine can be injected swallowed, snorted or smoked. The effects of ketamine may last for approximately 45 to 90 minutes. It is also sometimes mixed with cannabis or tobacco and smoked. The immediate effects may be experienced within 30 seconds if it is injected, or 5 to10 minutes when snorted, and up to 20 minutes if swallowed.

How Long Does Ketamine Stay in Your System?

Ketamine has been known to be detectable in urine samples from 3-5 days after the drug was consumed. It can be identified by saliva tests up to 24 hours after it has been taken.  A blood test is able to pinpoint any traces of the drug for up to 2 weeks after consumption. Hair tests are able to identify any signs of this drug in the human body for up to 3 months after last taken.

Can ketamine treat depression?

There have been many tests as to the successfulness in treating major depressive disorders, especially in those with suicidal tendencies which have not responded to other medications.

So far, the vast majority of studies conducted have used ketamine infusions through IV. Those that have responded well to initial transfusions tend to go on to progressively recover further. On average, 8 infusions are offered.

The main benefit of using ketamine to treat major depressive disorders is that it had shown to reduce suicidal thoughts rapidly. Whereas with other medications, It often takes weeks for them to start working to their optimum capacity.

Currently, there are two main types of ketamine that are used in the treatment of major depressive disorders. Treatment is only administered to patients who have not responded to two or more other medications and are therefore diagnosed as having treatment-resistant depression.

Ketamine treatment for depression is available in the following forms:

  1. Racemic ketamine, which is most often given as an infusion into the bloodstream. This is sometimes called intravenous, or IV, ketamine. IV ketamine was approved decades ago as an anaesthetic by the FDA; however, in the UK, it can be used off-label to treat depression.
  2. Esketamine (Spravato), which the FDA approved in March, is given as a nasal spray.

Both types of treatment have undesirable side effects, but the same can be said of many antidepressant medications. As yet no long term studies have confirmed its effectiveness, or if indeed it is safe to use long term as a solution to depression.

The most important thing to understand here is that treatment is conducted in a safe medical environment and in low controlled doses. Individuals should NEVER try to self medicate with ketamine as this can prove fatal. (7)

Ketamine bladder

ketamine bladder

This is a condition that occurs with frequent and prolonged use of ketamine. Most individuals that abuse the drug over a long period will end up with some degree of damage to their bladder. In the most severe cases of abuse, this can lead to surgical removal of the bladder and it being replaced with a synthetic pouch in which the person passes their urine (urostomy)

Ketamine causes inflammation of the bladder, and with continued or heavy use, it erodes the bladder’s tissues, causing shrinkage and scarring. (10)

Ketamine bladder, also medically known as ‘ketamine-induced vasculopathy (KIV)’ is an extremely painful condition. Once a particular stage has been reached, cessation of the drug will not repair the damage caused. (8)

Symptoms of ketamine bladder include:

  • Urinary urgency – a sudden and intense need to urinate
  • Urinary incontinence – inability to control the bladder (wetting yourself)
  • Urinating more frequently – due to shrinkage of the bladder
  • Severe pain when passing urine and repeated infections
  • Blood in the urine (8)

K-Hole, Ket Hole, What is it?

Those that abuse ketamine or take too much, often have an experience that is referred to as a ‘K-hole’. A K-hole is where the user feels like they have literally been sucked into another dimension by the effects of the drug.

Experiencing a K-hole can either be extremely frightening or very enjoyable. It is not something the user is in control of.

A K-hole has been described as a terrifying near-death experience or an intense sensation of being separated from your body (out of body experience). Some have described it as being teleported to other places or having the sensation of melting into their surroundings.

Several things can impact if and how you experience a K-hole, including how much you take, whether you mix it with alcohol or other drugs, your current state of mind and even the environment in which you take it. (9)

Symptoms of addiction

Being addicted to ketamine is a serious life-threatening condition and not one that gets better by itself. If you are wondering if you or a loved one may be addicted, identifying with two or more of the following characteristics strongly indicates that you are:

Preoccupation – Ketamine is on your mind more often than not. You preoccupied with thoughts of obtaining the drug and taking it. You become anxious if you are unable to get the drug or are running low

Tolerance – You have you found that you have needed to increase the amount  you take over some time to gain the same effects

Craving – You find yourself craving (experiencing an overwhelming urge to get and take the drug)

Progression – You have found over time that you take the drug more often, and/or have changed the route of administration/combined with alcohol or other drugs for greater effect.

Negative consequences – You have experienced negative consequences as a result of use but still, continue to take it

Inability to moderate or stop – You have tried various methods to cut back on your use or quit altogether but find that you cannot leave it alone completely

Increased risk-taking – You take risks while intoxicated and/or do things that you feel regret and shame about afterwards

Breaking moral code – You did something to get ketamine, or while under its influence, that you would not normally do. You feel guilt and regret around your actions, i.e. you borrow money you cannot repay, have stolen money, have slept with strangers or driven a motor vehicle while under its influence

To access immediate help, advice and treatment for addiction and abuse call Rehab Guide and speak with one of our friendly treatment experts who can advise you of your treatment options

Treatment for addiction

Suffering from any addiction is very serious. Drug addiction, when left untreated, can and does kill. If you or someone you love are struggling with a ketamine habit, it is vital to access the correct treatment without delay.

There are two main pathways for treatment. For free ketamine, help contact your local drug and alcohol services and your GP who will be able to offer you support in the community.

If you require detox, Rehab Guide offers inpatient ketamine detox and rehabilitation. Our treatment programmes for addiction are bespoke, delivered by qualified medical professionals and consist of evidence-based treatments designed to help you overcome your struggles with ketamine for good.

If ketamine is costing you more than just money, call us on  02072052845 for more information on our detox and rehab services.




Sources and references:

  1. Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2015
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketamine
  3. University of Birmingham https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/perspective/ketamine-cotton.aspx
  4. Talk to Frank – https://www.talktofrank.com/drug/ketamine
  5. Slang terms and code words for drugs – known to law enforcement officers https://ndews.umd.edu/sites/ndews.umd.edu/files/dea-drug-slang-terms-and-code-words-july2018.pdf
  6. https://www.mentalhelp.net/substance-abuse/ketamine/effects-of-abuse/
  7. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketamine-for-major-depression-new-tool-new-questions-2019052216673
  8. Ketamine bladder – https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/experts-call-for-ketamine-to-be-upgraded-to-class-b/
  9. What is a K-hole? https://www.healthline.com/health/k-hole#what-it-feels-like
  10. BBC News:https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25301908






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