Ketamine Addiction & Abuse | Signs, Side Effects, & Treatment

Although Ketamine was originally developed for surgery, it is a commonly abused recreational drug.

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Ketamine, also known as “special K,” is a powerful anesthetic originally developed for use in surgery. It is a Schedule III controlled substance in the United States due to its potential for abuse.

People may misuse ketamine for its hallucinogenic effects, which can include dissociation and altered perception as well as visual and auditory hallucinations in some cases.

Recreational ketamine use can lead to addiction, which is characterized by people who compulsively use the drug despite negative effects and attempts to quit.

For those experiencing ketamine abuse or addiction, treatment options are available.

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How Ketamine Affects The Brain And Body

Ketamine primarily interacts with a neurotransmitter in the brain called glutamate and its receptors, which play an important role in the brain’s overall function.

By binding to and blocking these receptors, ketamine disrupts the normal flow of glutamate, causing a decline in certain brain functions including learning, memory, and perception.

Ketamine’s impact on glutamate receptors can also lead to changes in perception and a sense of dissociation from one’s body, sometimes referred to as an out-of-body experience.

Users may experience visual and auditory hallucinations, a distorted sense of time, and a feeling of detachment from reality. This dissociative state is often referred to as the “K-hole.”

Forms Of Ketamine

Ketamine is available in various forms for both medical and recreational use. The primary forms of ketamine include liquid and powdered forms.


Ketamine Hydrochloride (ketamine hcl) is the most common form of pharmaceutical ketamine. The brand name for this type of ketamine is Ketalar, and it is administered by injection.

Some illegal ketamine is also sold as a liquid solution, often in small vials. People who misuse liquid ketamine may inject it intravenously or intramuscularly, or they may ingest it orally.


Pharmaceutical ketamine is sometimes sold in the form of a sterile, white powder that is later turned into a liquid for injections. It is used for anesthesia, sedation, and pain management.

Street ketamine is often found in powder form, either as a white powder or a crystalline substance. It can be snorted, ingested, or dissolved in liquid such as water for injection.

Common Side Effects Of Ketamine

The severity of ketamine’s side effects can vary depending on factors like the dose, route of administration, and a person’s sensitivity to the drug.

Some common side effects associated with ketamine include:

  • dream-like feeling
  • blurred vision
  • double vision
  • jerky muscle movements
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • loss of appetite
  • sleep problems (insomnia)
  • dissociation
  • changes in perception
  • impaired coordination
  • nausea and vomiting
  • slurred speech
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • elevated body temperature
  • sedation
  • psychological effects
  • urinary problems, pain, or inflammation of the bladder

Street Names For Ketamine

Ketamine is known by a variety of street names.

Some of the most common nicknames for ketamine are:

  • Vitamin K
  • Kit Kat
  • Special K
  • cat valium

Methods Of Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine abuse can take various forms, and people who misuse the drug may use different methods of administration to achieve the desired effects.

It’s essential to note that ketamine is a controlled substance in the U.S., and the recreational use of ketamine is both illegal and dangerous.

Oral Consumption

Ketamine can be ingested orally by mixing the powder with a liquid, such as water, or by consuming capsules or tablets that contain the drug.

This method of consumption typically results in a slower onset of effects compared to snorting or injection.


Some people dissolve ketamine powder in a liquid such as water and inject it either into a vein or into a muscle using a needle.

Injecting ketamine can produce intense and immediate effects but carries higher health risks, including the potential for infection and vein damage.


Snorting ketamine is a common method of abuse. In this method, powdered ketamine is divided into lines, typically using a flat surface, and then snorted through the nose.

This route of dosing can cause rapid absorption through the nasal mucosa, resulting in a quick onset of effects.

Smoke Inhalation

While less common, some people attempt to smoke ketamine. Ketamine typically degrades when exposed to heat, so smoking ketamine is not a popular method of abuse.

Ketamine And Sexual Assault

Drug-facilitated sexual assault happens when substances such as ketamine prevent a person from giving informed consent for sexual activities.

Ketamine has been flagged by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a potential date rape drug.

Like other date rape drugs, ketamine is used on victims because of its ability to incapacitate a person while also negatively affecting their short-term memory.

Incidents of drug-facilitated sexual assault have the potential to affect anyone, regardless of whether the assailant is a romantic partner, a friend, or a stranger.

Signs Of Ketamine Abuse

When used recreationally, ketamine carries significant risks, including addiction, physical harm, and the aggravation of existing mental health issues.

Recognizing the signs of ketamine abuse can be crucial for early intervention and support.

Signs of ketamine abuse may include:

  • frequent use
  • failed attempts to quit
  • neglecting responsibilities
  • social isolation
  • change in social circle
  • higher doses needed to achieve the same results
  • ketamine withdrawal symptoms like cravings, anxiety, and irritability
  • financial problems due to money spent on drugs
  • self-medicating with ketamine to combat other issues
  • change in behavior including mood swings, irritability, and unpredictability
  • neglect of personal hygiene
  • urinary tract issues (ketamine bladder syndrome)
  • cognitive impairment
  • memory loss
  • mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • secretive behavior around drug use

It’s important to approach someone who is displaying these signs with care and concern. Early intervention can be vital in addressing unwanted drug use and preventing further harm.

If you suspect that someone you know is abusing ketamine, encourage them to seek help from a healthcare professional, counselor, or addiction specialist.

Risks Of Ketamine Use

Ketamine use, whether for medical or recreational purposes, carries several risks and potential adverse effects. It’s important to be aware of these risks to make informed decisions about ketamine’s effects.

These are short-term risks associated with ketamine use:

  • slowed breathing
  • increase in heart rate and blood pressure
  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle rigidity or inability to move
  • seizures
  • hallucinations and psychosis
  • loss of coordination
  • impaired judgment
  • ketamine overdose
  • unexpected hospitalization

These are long-term risks associated with ketamine abuse:

  • ketamine bladder syndrome
  • psychological dependence
  • cognitive impairment
  • mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • flashbacks
  • physical dependence

Additionally, taking a high dose of ketamine can induce an intense dissociative experience referred to as a “K-hole,” which can be disorienting and psychologically distressing.

Ketamine is sometimes used in combination with other substances, which can amplify its effects and increase the risk of health complications.

Signs Of Ketamine Toxicity

Toxicity can occur when a ketamine user takes an excessive dose of the drug, leading to a range of adverse effects including potentially life-threatening symptoms.

Some signs and symptoms of ketamine toxicity may include:

  • severe confusion or disorientation
  • extreme hallucinations, delusions, or psychotic-like behavior
  • loss of consciousness
  • breathing difficulties
  • seizures
  • elevated blood pressure
  • a dangerously fast heart rate
  • hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)
  • muscle rigidity
  • loss of control over bladder or bowel function
  • unresponsiveness
  • nausea and vomiting

Signs of ketamine toxicity should be taken seriously due to its potential to lead to an overdose.

If you suspect that someone is experiencing ketamine toxicity or overdose, call 911 right away. Do not wait to seek help, as ketamine toxicity can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Ketamine Abuse Treatment Options

Recovery from ketamine addiction is possible with the right support and commitment to the treatment process.

Treatment plans for ketamine abuse typically involve a combination of interventions. The specific approach may vary based on the person’s needs and the severity of their addiction.


Detoxification, also known as detox, is a process by which a person’s body is allowed to metabolize and eliminate drugs or toxins from their system.

It is typically the first step in the treatment of substance abuse and addiction. Ketamine detox is necessary when a person has developed physical dependence on the drug.

During a detox, medical professionals monitor a person’s vital signs while they come off the drug and provide medications to ease discomfort during the process.

The specific methods and duration of a ketamine detox can vary depending on the extent of the addiction and a person’s health considerations.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapies are a common aspect of drug addiction treatment. Therapy is used to help people recognize and modify the thoughts and behaviors contributing to their substance abuse.

In therapy, people are also taught relapse prevention strategies. These strategies may include identifying high-risk situations and learning coping mechanisms.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), 12-step programs, and group therapy are some of the most popular types of therapy used in addiction treatment.


After completing a drug rehab program, the transition back to regular life can be challenging.

Aftercare, also known as continuing care or post-rehab care, is an important component of the recovery process.

It involves ongoing support and strategies to help people maintain their sobriety and successfully reintegrate into their communities.

Start Treatment For Drug Abuse In New England

If you or a loved one is experiencing ketamine abuse disorder in New England, help is available. Reach out to our Bedrock Recovery Center today.

  1. Department Of Justice (DOJ)
  2. National Library Of Medicine: Bookshelf
  3. Alcohol And Drug Foundation (ADF)
  4. National Library Of Medicine: Bookshelf
  5. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed
  6. Department Of Justice (DOJ)
  7. National Library Of Medicine: Bookshelf
  8. National Library Of Medicine: Bookshelf
  9. National Library Of Medicine: PubMed
  10. National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  11. Partnership To End Addiction

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: January 2, 2024

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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