There’s no such thing as a ‘safe’ drug, especially when it’s being abused recreationally. Of course, addiction isn’t a logical disease. The disease makes it difficult for people to resist substances that cause them profound harm due to the fact that the substances will make them feel euphoria. In short, addiction hijacks the brain’s reward and pleasure pathways, effectively rendering individuals helpless to self-destructive impulses. Among the many substances that exist, depressants are surely one of the most dangerous, particularly those that have dissociative traits. A prime example is a depressant known as ketamine.
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What exactly is ketamine?
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many chemists were in search of new medications that would be more effective and safer for medical use. In many cases, they were searching for anesthetics and analgesics specifically, resulting in the discovery of a wide variety of substances. At times, the substances they would develop would almost immediately change the field of medical care while other substances would be ignored for years or even decades before they were put to use. Ketamine, however, falls mostly into the former category.
Ketamine was first synthesized in 1962 by Calvin Stevens, a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Initially, the drug was tested on animals with promising results as a fast-acting general anesthetic. However, it wasn’t until 1964 that the U.S. government approved the use of ketamine on human subjects, at which point researchers conducted trials using prisoners as test subjects. During these trials, a few notable traits became apparent: For one thing, ketamine was relatively fast-acting as well as short-acting, which are ideal traits for drugs used in surgical settings since such drugs are much easier to control. As well, ketamine caused very little ‘behavioral toxicity’ in patients, especially when compared to other drugs being used at the time.
Prior to ketamine, a drug called phencyclidine — better known as PCP — was being tested for its potential use as a fast-acting local anesthetic, but PCP notably triggered violent, aggressive, and/or delusional behavior in users. When ketamine was used for similar purposes, users displayed far less of the disturbing behaviors that PCP users had demonstrated previously, indicating a preferably alternative. Therefore, just a few years later, in 1970, the federal government officially approved ketamine for human use, at which point it became a popular medication for use on battlefield during the Vietnam War.
The first indications of nonmedical use of ketamine as well as the drug’s strong potential for abuse emerged during the late 1970s and 1980s on the West Coast. At the time, psychiatrists had begun using the drug in academic research, documenting the effects of ketamine intoxication on subjects. Meanwhile, recreational drug users had begun abusing ketamine since it could offer them a depressant-like experience with echoes of hallucinogen, which was due to ketamine’s dissociative properties. In the 1980s and beyond, ketamine actually gained a reputation as a ‘club drug’ for this very reason with some comparing ketamine to MDMA and ecstasy despite the fact that the latter two are actually stimulants.
Due to the rise in ketamine in Hong Kong’s dance culture, the drug continues to have strong associations with nightlife today. However, due to its qualities as a depressant, it’s become more common for ketamine to be used as an ‘after-club drug’, meaning that the drug helps users to ‘come down’ from the stimulants used while at bars and clubs. A major problem today is that ketamine is often sold unknowingly to users who believe they’re buying other drugs like MDMA and ecstasy. Although ketamine was made a controlled substance in the United States in 1999, it continues to be imported from overseas and remains relatively common today.
Effects of ketamine
Often considered a ‘sister drug’ to PCP, ketamine is a dissociative depressant, which means that it’s both a depressant as well as a psychoactive dissociative drug; however, ketamine also acts on the brain’s opioid receptors, meaning that it also has a level of opioid-like effects, further contributing to ketamine’s complicated nature. In other words, this means that ketamine has a rather odd combination of effects. When it’s compared to other drugs by its weight, ketamine has been found to be more powerful than cocaine and speed, which makes it extremely easy for individuals to overdose on ketamine. More often than not, the drug is insufflated (inhaled through the nose) or injected, but it can also be smoked and ingested. Since it’s both colorless and odorless, it’s occasionally used as a ‘date rape drug’ in the same vain as GHB.
The effects of ketamine begin rather abruptly about five or so minutes after the drug has been imbibed (unless consumed orally, which would require more time). First, a user will notice an intense relaxation that settles throughout the body, sometimes described as a fuzziness felt throughout the body. Others have described it as an out-of-body experience or like the feeling of floating in the air. Some experience hallucinations while on ketamine, which last longer than the physical effects. As well, there are often a number of negative effects, including confusion and disorientation, intense drowsiness, and an increase in both blood pressure and heart rate.
Ketamine withdrawal symptoms
When a person continues to use ketamine frequently over a period of time, he or she is at high risk of becoming physiologically dependent on the drug, which will mean that he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms after brief periods of time without ketamine. Some of the symptoms most characteristic of ketamine withdrawal include confusion, hallucinations and delusions, nausea, sudden and inexplicable anger, decrease in respiratory and cardiac functioning, hearing loss, intense fatigue, insomnia, and physical shaking and trembling.
Overcoming ketamine addiction
It can be quite scary to be addicted to a powerful and dangerous drug like ketamine, but there are resources available for those in need. Typically, it’s recommended that an individual addicted to ketamine begin the recovery process with a detox program, which affords him or her a period of time during which to overcome the physical aspects of the addiction. Afterward, he or she can proceed to the treatment phase of recovery via an inpatient program consisting of individual psychotherapy, group sessions, life skills training, and other important components. The goal is to help each individual learn the skills and strategies necessary to achieve long-lasting sobriety by minimizing the potential of an individual relapsing and resuming the use of ketamine.