Ketamine Misuse and Effects

Between 2017 and 2022, the U.S. experienced a 1,100% increase in the total weight of ketamine seized. This drastic increase has led to concerns that it could indicate a rise in ketamine misuse across the country.1

This article will review what ketamine is, the adverse effects of its misuse, and how to get help if you or someone you care about is misusing ketamine.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that can alter a person’s perception of reality and may cause a person to feel “out of their body.”2,3 It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a surgical anesthetic and veterinary anesthetic.2,3

Esketamine—a drug derived from ketamine—is used as an antidepressant. It is only prescribed as a nasal spray under strict medical guidance for otherwise treatment-resistant depression.3

As an anesthetic, ketamine is administered through injection alone or in combination with other anesthetics during surgical or veterinary procedures.2,3

When it is distributed illegally, ketamine typically comes in powder or liquid form.3

Although it has medical uses, ketamine is classified as a Schedule III drug, which means it is known to have moderate to low misuse potential.3,4

Ketamine Misuse

Ketamine is commonly misused for its dissociative effects.5 It is considered a “club drug” due to its use at raves and dance clubs.6 Ketamine may also be used to facilitate sexual assault. It is unnoticeable when mixed into drinks and can impair a person’s senses, making them more vulnerable.7

Ketamine may be misused by:3

  • Injecting the liquid form.
  • Swallowing the liquid form by mixing it in a drink.
  • Smoking or snorting the powder form.

When smoked, the powder form of ketamine is usually added to tobacco or marijuana cigarettes.3

Street names for illicit ketamine include:6

  • Kit Kat.
  • Special K.
  • Super Acid.
  • Super K.
  • Vitamin K.

After long-term misuse, physical dependence to ketamine may develop—for some people, this can lead to ketamine addiction.2 Ketamine withdrawal symptoms have been reported by people who stopped or decreased use abruptly after frequently using large doses over an extended period.2

Reported symptoms of withdrawal from ketamine include:2

  • Ketamine cravings.
  • Feeling fatigued.
  • Decrease in appetite.
  • Feeling anxious.

Ketamine Effects

Ketamine misuse is associated with adverse effects, which may include:3

  • Deficiencies in attention, learning, and memory.
  • Feeling as if in a dream.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Becoming sedated or loss of consciousness.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Dangerously slowed breathing.

In addition to the above, ongoing ketamine misuse may lead to long-term health problems such as:

  • Bladder ulcers and pain.3
  • Kidney damage.3
  • Stomach pain.3
  • Depressed mood.3
  • Memory impairment.3
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD)—though this occurrence is rare.5

When ketamine is injected, there is also risk of a person contracting hepatitis, HIV, or other infectious diseases from needle sharing.3

As a club drug, ketamine may be used with other substances, including alcohol.3,5 Ketamine misuse in combination with alcohol and other drugs presents a greater risk of unpredictable and adverse effects.2,3

Risk of Ketamine Overdose

Ketamine overdose is possible any time a person takes enough of the drug to cause life-threatening effects. While an overdose from hallucinogens and dissociatives is typically rare, ketamine overdose may occur by taking extremely high doses or concurrent doses in a short period of time.2,5

Due to the lack of regulation surrounding illegally manufactured drugs, contamination with fentanyl or other substances can increase the risk of overdose and death when misusing ketamine. Fentanyl and other substances that may be cut into street drugs are difficult to detect because they are colorless and odorless.5

Symptoms of a ketamine overdose may include:

  • Changes in heart rate and blood pressure.2
  • Slowed or stopped breathing.2
  • Seizures.8

Ketamine Misuse Treatment

If you or someone you love is experiencing problems due to ketamine misuse, help is available. At Desert Hope Treatment Center, expert medical professionals provide evidence-based addiction treatment to support your recovery.

Desert Hope offers several levels of addiction treatment and customizes each individual’s treatment plan according to their ketamine misuse, use of other substances, and any co-occurring mental health disorders.

Whether you are looking for outpatient treatment or inpatient rehab in Las Vegas, Desert Hope offers several different types of rehab care and has helped hundreds of people pave their path to recovery.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

(0/100)
You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Desert Hope is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is easily accessible from most locations in the Southwest. We offer a full continuum of care that spans from inpatient medical detox and rehab to outpatient services and sober living. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Vegas or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.