Ketamine, known as Special K, Vitamin K or Cat Valiums, is an injectable anesthetic. It is most commonly used by veterinarians in veterinary practice. In the 1980s it began to be used recreationally as an intoxicant.
Ketamine is either sold as a dry white powder or a clear liquid (in its original pharmaceutical packaging). The powder is made by drying the liquid. The residue from this drying process is then crushed and snorted in small doses (called bumps). In rare cases ketamine is injected intramuscularly or smoked with tobacco or marijuana. Whether smoked or snorted, the effects begin in a few minutes and lasts less than an hour.
Ketamine produces effects in humans similar to phencyclidine (PCP) such as dream-like dissociative states and hallucinations. It has a number of contradictory effects, including stimulant, sedative, anesthetic, and hallucinogenic properties. Low doses cause impaired attention, learning ability and memory. At high doses it can cause hallucinations, delirium and amnesia.
Ketamine blocks the neurotransmitter glutamate at one of its receptors, causing a user to feel distanced from his/her environment. But ketamine also causes the user to feel euphoric and insensitive to physical pain. When ketamine is used as an anesthetic in humans, it is used with another drug to prevent hallucinations.
As with PCP, people can have bad reactions to ketamine. It impairs a person's ability to drive and can cause agitation, high blood pressure and potentially fatal respiratory problems. Ketamine can also put users in a state called a "k-hole" where they become unable to move or communicate and feel very far away from their body. Some users seek this state, which they consider to simulate a near-death experience, while others find it frightening and disturbing. Because it can render the user unable to move, ketamine has also been used as a date rape drug.
It is difficult to regulate a "dose" of ketamine, and there is only a slight difference in dose between the desired effects and an overdose. Ketamine is a depressant at higher doses and can dangerously reduce heart rate and respiratory function. Combining ketamine with other depressants, like alcohol, valium, or GHB, can lead to serious medical consequences. It can also produce delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function or depression at high doses.
There is some anecdotal evidence that low-dose intoxication can impair learning ability, attention, and memory. Like other hallucinogens, ketamine can also cause severe flashbacks. Frequent use and higher doses can cause disruptions in consciousness, leading to neurosis or other mental disorders.
Some of the signs of problem use are:
- More frequent use.
- Needing more and more to get the same high.
- Spending time thinking about ketamine.
- Spending more money than you have on the drug.
- Missing class, work, or failing to finish assignments because of ketamine use.
- Making new friends who do it and neglecting old friends who don't.
- Finding it's hard to be happy without it.
If you find that you can't stop using ketamine, remember there's help available.
Ketamine users can develop signs of tolerance and craving for the drug, which is evidence of addictive properties. For people who want to feel dissociated from their environment, this drug can be dangerously appealing and there are many reported cases of addiction.
Yes, taking ketamine is illegal and its possession, use, and sale carry heavy prison sentences and fines and disciplinary consequences at Brown. See the Brown University Policy on Drugs on the Student Rights and Responsibilities web site.
If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them.
If you or a friend are having trouble with drugs or alcohol, or just have questions, there is help available.
The Good Drugs Guide
This British harm-reduction web site provides extensive information on ketamine, including the basics, dangers, mixing with other drugs and links.
National Institute on Drug Abuse
NIDA drug pages have research reports, statistics and information on addiction.
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