Other Drugs


What is ketamine?

Ketamine (Aka: Cat Tranquilizer, Cat Valium, Jet K, Kit Kat, Purple, Special K, K) is a dissociative anesthetic used in human anesthesia and veterinary medicine. Dissociative drugs are hallucinogens that cause a person to feel detached from reality. Much of the ketamine sold on the street has been diverted from veterinarians’ offices. Ketamine’s chemical structure and mechanism of action are similar to those of PCP.

How is ketamine used?

Ketamine is snorted or swallowed. Ketamine is odorless and tasteless, so it can be added to beverages without being detected, and it induces amnesia. Ketamine is also considered to be a “date rape” drug due to its ability to sedate and incapacitate someone.

Why do people use ketamine?

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. 

What are the short-term effects or risks of using ketamine?

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. 

Are there long-term consequences to using ketamine?

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. 

How do I recognize problematic ketamine use?

Some of the signs of problematic use are:

  • Increased use. More frequent or prolonged use of ketamine.
  • Tolerance. Needing more ketamine to get the same high or reach the desired effect.
  • Premeditation. Spending exaggerated amounts of time thinking about ketamine.
  • Financial instability. Spending more money than you have or intended on ketamine.
  • Failure to fulfill major role obligations. Missing class, work, or failing to fulfill important roles because of ketamine use.
  • Changing social dynamics. Making new friends who consistently use ketamine and/or neglecting old friends who don't.
  • Lack of life satisfaction. Finding it's hard to be happy without ketamine.​

If you find that you, a friend, or a loved one can't stop using ketamine, remember that there's always help available. 

Is ketamine addictive?

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. 

Is ketamine illegal?

Except for medically relevant and documented reasons, Ketamine is illegal and it is currently a Schedule III drug (drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs abuse potential is less than Schedule I and Schedule II drugs but more than Schedule IV). Its possession, use, and sale carry heavy prison sentences and fines, as well as disciplinary consequences at Brown. See the Brown University Policy on Drugs on the Student Rights and Responsibilities web site. 

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs or alcohol?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them. 

Related Links

Dance Safe
DanceSafe is a harm-reduction web site centered on drugs found in nightclubs and raves. The site offers drug information, a risk assessment, ecstasy testing kits and e-news.

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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