Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

What is Ketamine? Addiction, Abuse & Treatment

Table of Contents

Ketamine is a powerful drug that can severely affect the body and mind. As a dissociative anesthetic, it blocks the signals between the brain and the body, creating a sense of detachment from reality.

Ketamine was initially developed as a human and veterinary medicine, but it has also been prevalently used as a recreational drug and a date rape drug.

Ketamine addiction has been recognized as a concern since the drug entered the illicit market as a recreational substance in the late 20th century.

Fortunately, ketamine addiction is treatable with therapy and medical interventions.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a powerful dissociative anesthetic initially developed in the 1960s for medical purposes.

Due to its rapid onset and unique properties, it gained recognition as an anesthetic used in surgery and an effective pain reliever in emergencies.

It was initially tested as a safer alternative to phencyclidine (PCP), another dissociative anesthetic with dangerous side effects.

Ketamine got FDA approval in 1970 for human use as an anesthetic for surgery and trauma. It was also widely used in veterinary clinics to sedate animals.

Ketamine also has some medical benefits, especially for patients with chronic pain or treatment-resistant depression. It can provide fast and effective pain relief and mood enhancement at lower doses.

It can also help patients who are allergic or resistant to other medications.

Esketamine, a derivative of ketamine, is FDA-approved for treatment-resistant depression in specific circumstances. However, it is not approved for other conditions, and its use is strictly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

On the streets, ketamine goes by various slang terms, including “Special K,” “K,” “Vitamin K,” “Kit Kat,” and “Cat Valium.” These nicknames are often used by individuals who misuse the substance recreationally.

Ketamine can be consumed differently, depending on its intended effects and form. It is available as a liquid, powder, or in tablet form.

Recreational users typically snort or swallow it. Some may also inject it, although this is less common.


Effects of Ketamine

Ketamine’s effects are typically dose-dependent, changing depending on substance use. The method of consumption and the user’s characteristics can also affect what users experience.

Generally, low doses produce mild ketamine effects, including numbness, relaxation, euphoria, enhanced sensory perception, and an altered sense of time and space.

However, at higher doses, ketamine use can produce more intense and potentially dangerous effects, such as:

  • Dissociation

  • Hallucinations

  • Out-of-body experience

  • Near-death experience

  • Loss of motor control

  • Loss of consciousness

Some users may enjoy these effects and seek them deliberately, while others may find them frightening and unpleasant.

Delayed Effects of Ketamine Use: Long-term Consequences

Ketamine use can also have negative physical and psychological consequences in the long term, especially with frequent or heavy use.

Some of the long-term effects of ketamine use include:

  • Tolerance

  • Physical and psychological dependence

  • Physical withdrawal symptoms

  • Ketamine addiction

  • Memory loss, attention deficit, learning difficulties, and poor judgment

  • Bladder damage

  • Kidney damage

  • Liver damage

  • Respiratory failure

  • Ketamine overdose

  • Death

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Yes, ketamine can be addictive. When comparing its addictive nature to other drugs, it is generally considered less addictive than other drugs like opioids or stimulants.

However, it can still lead to psychological and, in some cases, physical dependence. Remember that psychological addiction can be as harmful as physical addiction, as both can interfere with a person’s mental health, relationships, work, and quality of life.

Your chances of developing ketamine dependence depend on genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors.

Some people may be more vulnerable to ketamine addiction, depending on their personality, mental health, family history, trauma, stress, peer pressure, and drug availability.

Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction

Some of the signs and symptoms of ketamine addiction include:

  • Craving Ketamine

  • Using more ketamine than intended

  • Spending a lot of time and money on obtaining, using, and recovering from ketamine

  • Neglecting other responsibilities and interests because of ketamine

  • Experiencing problems at home, school, work, or with the law because of ketamine

  • Continuing to use ketamine despite knowing its harmful effects

  • Trying to quit or reduce ketamine use but failing

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing ketamine use


Ketamine Abuse and Addiction

Ketamine abuse and addiction can develop gradually as a person uses ketamine more frequently and in higher doses. Addiction can develop quickly, mainly if using ketamine with other drugs or alcohol.

Mixing ketamine with other substances can enhance its effects and increase its dangers.

Ketamine addiction can affect a person’s physical and mental health.

Effects of Ketamine Addiction on the Body and Mind

Some of the effects of ketamine addiction on the body and mind are:

  • Impaired memory and cognition

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Psychosis and paranoia

  • Bladder damage and urinary problems

  • Liver damage and hepatitis

  • Kidney damage and renal failure

  • Increased risk of infections and diseases

  • Increased risk of injuries and accidents

Ketamine Overdose and Withdrawal

A ketamine overdose occurs when a person takes too much ketamine or mixes it with other drugs or alcohol. This can cause severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms, such as:

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • High blood pressure

  • Seizures

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Hallucinations and delusions

  • Agitation and violence

Note: ketamine overdose can also result in death if not treated promptly. If you suspect someone has overdosed on ketamine, call 911 immediately.

When someone decides to stop using ketamine after regular use, they can experience a range of uncomfortable feelings and changes in their body and mind.

Withdrawal symptoms include cravings, mood swings, anxiety and depression, sleep disturbance, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight, and cognitive impairment.

The duration and severity of withdrawal vary based on the amount and frequency of ketamine use and the individual’s physical and mental health. These withdrawal symptoms can generally last from a few days to several weeks or months.

The best way to manage ketamine withdrawal symptoms is to seek professional help from a medical professional or an addiction treatment center.

Finding Ketamine Addiction Treatment

The good news is that there are effective ways to treat ketamine addiction and help people recover from its harmful effects.

Treatment for ketamine addiction can help people stop using the drug, cope with withdrawal, learn new skills to prevent ketamine addiction from happening again and live a normal and productive life.

Treatment approaches and therapies for ketamine abuse and addiction include:

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment for ketamine addiction is a program that provides round-the-clock care and support in a residential setting.

In this program, a person stays at a facility for some time, usually between 30 and 90 days.

Inpatient treatment provides a safe and supportive environment where a person can focus on recovery without distractions or temptations.

It also offers medical care and supervision, which can help with physical withdrawal and other health issues related to ketamine abuse.

Psychological Counseling – CBT, DBT

Psychological counseling or therapy is a process where a person talks to a trained professional, such as a therapist or counselor, about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to ketamine misuse.

This can help a person understand why they started using ketamine, how it affects their life, and how they can change their habits and cope with stress healthier.

There are different types of psychological therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) that can teach a person different skills and strategies to deal with ketamine addiction.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage withdrawal and cravings. These medications can make the recovery process more comfortable and effective.

MAT can be used with other addiction treatment programs, like inpatient treatment or psychological counseling, to enhance their effectiveness.

Transform Your Life with NuView Treatment Center

If you or a loved one are struggling with ketamine addiction, abuse or seeking effective treatment, NuView Treatment Center is here to help you take the first step towards recovery.

Our experienced team specializes in addiction treatment and can provide your support and guidance.

Contact NuView Treatment Center today to learn how we can help you transform your life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ketamine Addiction, Abuse, and Treatment

Ketamine differs from other hallucinogenic drugs in terms of its chemical structure, effects, and mechanisms of action. It is a dissociative anesthetic, while drugs like LSD and psilocybin are classic hallucinogens.

Yes, ketamine does have legal medical uses. It is used as an anesthetic and pain reliever in medical settings, but its recreational use is illegal in many places.

Consuming ketamine can be done through various methods, including snorting, swallowing, injecting, and, in medical settings, intravenous administration.

The potential dangers of combining ketamine with other substances include:

  • Overdose risk

  • Unpredictable reactions

  • Mental effects like severe dissociation, anxiety, panic attacks, or even psychotic episodes

  • Physical health risks

  • Impaired judgment

  • Addiction

  • Arrest and criminal charge

Yes, ketamine can kill you, especially when used excessively or combined with other drugs. Overdose of ketamine can lead to respiratory failure and other life-threatening complications.

Ketamine addiction can contribute to the development or exacerbation of mental health disorders. However, it's not typically considered a direct cause of mental health disorders.

No, there are no specific home remedies for ketamine withdrawal. Professional medical and psychological help is essential for safe and effective withdrawal management.

Yes, ketamine can be dangerous when misused. It can cause physical and psychological dependence, impaired motor function, and other adverse health effects.

No, ketamine is not a benzodiazepine (benzo). It belongs to a different class of drugs known as dissociative anesthetics.

No, ketamine is not an opioid. It works on different receptors in the brain and has distinct effects compared to opioids.

Błachut, Michał et al. “Przypadek pacjenta uzaleznionego od ketaminy” [A case of ketamine dependence]. Psychiatria polska vol. 43,5 (2009): 593-9.

“FDA Approves New Nasal Spray Medication for Treatment-resistant Depression; Available Only at a Certified Doctor’s Office or Clinic.” U.S. Food And Drug Administration, 5 Mar. 2019, www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-nasal-spray-medication-treatment-resistant-depression-available-only-certified.

Li, Heng, et al. “To Use or Not to Use: An Update on Licit and Illicit Ketamine Use.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, vol. 2, 2011, pp. 11-20, https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S15458. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

Li, Linda, and Phillip E. Vlisides. “Ketamine: 50 Years of Modulating the Mind.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 10, 2016, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00612. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

Trujillo, Keith A., and Colleen Y. Heller. “Ketamine Sensitization: Influence of Dose, Environment, Social Isolation and Treatment Interval.” Behavioural Brain Research, vol. 378, 2019, p. 112271, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112271. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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