Ketamine: Facts, Effects and Hazards


Ketamine is a type of medication used to induce loss of consciousness (anesthesia), produce relaxation, and relieve pain in both humans and animals. It is a class III scheduled drug and is approved for use in hospitals and other medical settings.

The drug has hallucinogenic, tranquilizing and dissociative effects, and is one of the recreational drugs used illegally in the club drug scene.

Ketamine has a good safety profile when used in controlled, medical practices. When used recreationally, ketamine can have potentially dangerous adverse health effects, and its prolonged use can lead to tolerance and psychological addiction.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine belongs to a class of drugs known as dissociative anesthetics. Other drugs in this category include phencyclidine (PCP), DXM and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). These types of drugs can make a person feel detached from sensations and surroundings as if floating outside the body.

Ketamine is sometimes used to induce and maintain general anesthesia, and in lower doses can relieve pain.  It is most likely to be used for short-lasting diagnostic and surgical interventions such as dental extractions, and in procedures involving children.

In a medical setting, ketamine is either injected into a muscle or administered through an intravenous (IV) line. When used as an anesthetic in humans, it is used in combination with another drug to prevent hallucinations.

With recreational use, ketamine can be taken orally as a pill, snorted, smoked with tobacco or marijuana or mixed into drinks. Most often, it is cooked into a white powder for snorting. Regardless of how it is ingested, its effects begin within a few minutes and last for less than an hour. When taken orally, ketamine can cause severe nausea and vomiting.


Ketamine is most commonly used in veterinary medicine where it is utilized for its anesthetic properties.

Therapeutic Use of Ketamine

Ketamine is most commonly used in veterinary medicine where it is utilized for its anesthetic properties.

Ketamine is most often used in veterinary medicine. It can be used in humans before, during and after surgery to relieve postoperative pain. The drug has also been used for intensive care management of prolonged epileptic seizures.

Ketamine is considered relatively safe because an individual’s protective airway reflexes are preserved and the drug does not depress the circulatory system like other anesthetic medications. However, patients have in some instances reported disturbing sensations when awakening from ketamine anesthesia.

Other potential medical uses of ketamine are currently being researched, particularly in the areas of treatment-resistant depression and substance use disorders.

Recreational Use of Ketamine

The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports the rate of ketamine use as 0.1% for persons aged 12 and above, with the highest rate (0.2%) in those aged 18-25.

Ketamine use is most often seen in the dance club setting as a party drug. It produces an abrupt high that lasts for about an hour. Users report euphoria, along with feelings of floating and other “out of body” phenomenons. Hallucinations (similar to LSD) are common.

Higher doses can produce more intense effects known as being in the “K-hole,” whereby users become unable to move or communicate and feel very far away from their body. Some users seek to have this type of transcendental experience while others find it terrifying.

Commercial brand names:

  • Ketalar
  • Ketanest
  • Ketaset.

Street names:

  • Cat Valium
  • KitKat
  • Special K
  • Vitamin K
  • The horse tranquilizer
  • Kitkat
  • Special La Coke
  • Ket
  • Purple
  • Super K
  • Jet.

Ketamine Health Risks

Frequent use of ketamine can have a damaging effect on the bladder.

Ketamine can render an individual oblivious to their environment, putting users not only at risk of accidental injury to themselves but also making them more vulnerable to assault by others.

Ketamine can cause an increase in intracranial (brain) and blood pressure. Medical use of ketamine is contraindicated in individuals who have a brain lesion (tumor), brain swelling and glaucoma. The drug is used with caution in those with coronary artery disease, increased blood pressure, thyroid disease or with chronic alcoholism or acute alcohol intoxication.

It is difficult to regulate a “dose” of ketamine, and there is only a slight difference in dosage between obtaining the drug’s desired effects and an overdose. Frequent illegal use of ketamine can lead to serious mental disorders and major physical harm to the bladder known as ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis.   


Ketamine is a Class III controlled substance that can cause dependence, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms with prolonged use. When people stop taking ketamine, they may experience depression, anxiety, insomnia and flashbacks.

Chronic users have been known to “binge” their ketamine use in an attempt to achieve the dissociative, euphoric effects of their early first use.

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