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Ketamine

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine hydrochloride, or ketamine, is a fast-acting and powerful anesthetic used on animals and humans during surgery. When used legally, ketamine is a colorless liquid that vets and doctors inject with a needle.

Illegal ketamine is mostly sold as a white or off-white powder that users snort through the nose. Some people smoke it, often with marijuana or tobacco. Illegal ketamine also comes as a liquid that rapists or criminals might mix into drinks as a way to drug a victim before assaulting them.

Short-Term Effects

Shortly after taking ketamine, people may enter a dream-like state or have hallucinations. Some users feel like they're floating or pleasantly detached from their bodies. However, ketamine also can cause a terrifying sense of almost complete detachment that may feel like a near-death experience. This is referred to as the "K-hole" and is similar to having a bad trip on LSD.

The major effects of ketamine last for only 30 to 60 minutes, but ketamine can continue to affect a user's coordination and judgment for up to 24 hours.

Other short-term effects include:

  • delirium, or a serious disturbance in a person's mental state
  • amnesia (memory loss or forgetting)
  • lack of coordination and body control
  • depression
  • high blood pressure and faster heart rate
  • slowed breathing and other respiratory problems — in high doses, ketamine can even slow breathing to the point where the user dies

Long-Term Effects

Not much is known about the long-term effects of illegal ketamine use. Doctors and researchers believe that abusing ketamine over a long period of time can lead to problems with memory and attention. Ketamine also can have negative effects on users' learning abilities and mental states. Users also might have flashbacks of their experience for several weeks after taking the drug.

Frequent ketamine use can cause someone to become dependent on the drug to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress. This can lead to increased use of the drug and a higher risk of negative side effects and long-term mental issues.

Other Possible Problems

Taking too much ketamine or mixing it with other drugs or alcohol greatly increases the chances of serious health problems, and even death. This can happen the first time someone uses ketamine.

People who inject ketamine run the risk of getting a disease like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis if they share needles with people who are infected.

Liquid ketamine has no smell or color, so it can easily be slipped into someone's drink without the person knowing it. People who are given ketamine may be more open to suggestion and more vulnerable to sexual assault. Also, since ketamine can mess with someone's memory, it might be difficult to recall what happened while under the drug's influence. This is why ketamine is known as a "date rape" drug.

Most illegal ketamine in the United States is stolen from veterinarians' offices in liquid form, then evaporated into a powder. Because of that, it's impossible for users to know how large a dose they are taking or if the ketamine has been mixed with other dangerous chemicals.

Ketamine is listed as a Schedule III substance, meaning it has acceptable medical use but has the potential for illegal abuse. Illegal use or possession of ketamine can bring hefty fines and jail time.

How Can Someone Quit?

Ketamine has the potential to be addictive, both mentally and physically. Because people might have intense cravings for the drug, it can be very difficult to quit.

If you can't stop taking ketamine, talking with a counselor or joining a support group can help. Spending time in a rehab facility or treatment center also can help people to kick a ketamine habit.

Avoiding Ketamine

With many drugs, avoiding them can be as simple as saying "no." That works if you're offered ketamine, but what if it's slipped into your drink? Avoiding ketamine also means staying aware of what's going on around you at parties, raves, or clubs. Never accept an open drink from a stranger, and keep your drink with you at all times so you don't give anyone a chance to slip something into it.

Date reviewed: February 2014

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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