Ketamine: everything you need to know

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Recognised for its anaesthetic properties, Ketamine is a drug which can be used to dull or manage pain in small, measured quantities. It is primarily used once other treatments have not proven effective in helping an individual.

A study by Oxford University also found that Ketamine acts as an effective means of managing depression [1].

Despite these medicinal functions, the drug has a history of being used as a recreational substance.

How does it work in the body?

When an individual takes Ketamine, it works to inhibit the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor in the brain. This receptor is responsible for the strengthening of pain signals, and so Ketamine’s function is to dampen such signals and relieve the brain’s experience of pain.

In terms of treating depression, Ketamine targets a neurotransmitter known as glutamate. Glutamate is responsible for facilitating signals across synapses – the bridges between neurons.

When taken, Ketamine excites glutamate [2]. This promotes a rush of signals moving through the brain, adjusting Gamma-Aminobutyric acid levels in the brain and easing depressive symptoms.

What does it look like?

Ketamine can look quite different from instance to instance. When prescribed for medicinal purposes, it usually comes in the form of liquid medicine. This liquid tends to be clear.

However, when consumed for recreational purposes, the drug can be attained as a pill or a brown/off-white powder.

There are additional risks that come with these forms of the drug. For example, pills can contain other substances within them.

How is it ingested into the body?

When medically prescribed, Ketamine is to be ingested through the mouth. However, those who use it recreationally can either take the pills in the same way or snort the powder through their nose.

How does it influence those who take it?

The intended effect for those who take Ketamine medicinally is a degree of relief from their physical pain or depressive symptoms. However, they can also experience a few others, as can those who take it recreationally.

It is normal for individuals to feel a kind of lightness, with their coordination and perspective feeling off-balance. Their mood improves, and some can even feel as though the world around them isn’t real.

Of course, the dosage an individual takes strong influences what effects they will feel from Ketamine, and the potential effects of higher doses are outlined below.

The physical effects of taking Ketamine

Person feeling confused

As with all substances used for medicinal and recreational purposes, individuals who take Ketamine will experience changes in their physical body.

These effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Inability to move
  • Heart palpitations
  • Potentially fatal breathing complications [3]
  • Vision problems
  • Tachycardia, where the heart beats over 100 times a minute
  • Speech difficulties
  • Uncontrollable saliva
  • Seizures

The mental effects of taking Ketamine

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Ketamine has a direct influence on mood and how the brain works. As a result, it can have a variety of mental effects when taken.

These include:

  • Intense anxiety
  • Cognitive dysfunction, reducing the ability to think and make sound judgements
  • Memory problems
  • Sedation
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Sensory hallucinations and disconnection from the real world [4]
  • Inability to focus
  • Vivid and realistic dreams
  • Confidence and a sense of being powerful

The effects of Ketamine in the long-term

Woman crying on a bench

Taking Ketamine on a regular basis does not simply influence individuals within the first few hours of them having consumed it.

Their body and mind can be affected in the long term as well, and some of the more drawn-out effects include:

  • Bladder problems, including painful urination and bloody urine
  • Fluctuations in mood and mental stability
  • Organ damage, resulting in problems developing in the brain, digestive system, liver, and kidneys
  • Decline in attention functionality
  • Injections of Ketamine can result in damage to the veins, muscles, and skin
  • Increasing problems with memory
  • Worsening depressive symptoms

How does Ketamine interact with other substances?

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Ketamine is a substance that should not be taken alongside other medications.

The same goes for other recreational substances that might be used alongside Ketamine to achieve a particularly strong high.

For example, drinking alcohol with Ketamine can cause strong drowsiness and sedative effects. Driving under the influence of these combined substances can be fatal.

Ketamine overdose – is it possible?

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Yes! Consuming excessive quantities of Ketamine poses the risk of overloading the body and triggering an overdose. While dying from it is incredibly rare, it is possible, and the effects are so dangerous that they can easily cause an individual to harm themselves or others.

The signs of Ketamine overdose include:

  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Slipping into a coma
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations and chest pain
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Breathing problems

In the event of an individual overdosing on Ketamine, it is important that they are supported in the appropriate way.

The emergency services must be called as soon as possible. Following that, an individual must be stayed with and looked after until help arrives.

This latter step is essential for reducing the chance of them being hurt or killed. For example, if an individual is paralysed, remaining observant of them will ensure they do not vomit and choke.

Is Ketamine an addictive substance?


One of the most important long-term effects to be aware of when taking Ketamine is the body and mind forming a dependency on it. Better known as developing an addiction, Ketamine use can push individuals to become reliant on its daily use in order to function.

How does physical Ketamine addiction work?

Ketamine provides a function in the body when it is taken. It dampens pain, changing the chemical and neuronic functioning of the brain and body, and these two latter things gradually adjust to the drug’s presence.

Over time, Ketamine becomes vital to the brain and body’s normal functioning. As a result, its absence triggers a sudden imbalance.

The body demands Ketamine be ingested – characterised by withdrawal symptoms – and individuals take it to feel okay again.

This demand locks individuals into continuing to take Ketamine and gradually taking more and more of it.

How does psychological Ketamine addiction work?

Ketamine regulates mood, meaning that is effectively treats depression. However, this can lead individuals to believe that they need the drug in order to live their lives normally.

They can fear that its absence will lead them to become depressed again.

As a result, these individuals can experience intense bouts of anxiety and distress. In order to satisfy these worries, individuals then start taking Ketamine more regularly and in larger doses.

The longer they do it, the stronger their belief in its necessity becomes.

Identifying the signs of Ketamine addiction

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Ketamine addiction can take over an individual’s life. The physical and mental effects outlined above can become stronger and more life-altering, and the long-term effects can begin hindering the quality of life.

For these reasons, it is incredibly important to be able to identify the warning signs of Ketamine addiction.

They include:

  • Needing to consume more Ketamine over time in order to feel the same effects
  • Prioritising Ketamine attainment and consumption over hobbies, family life, and friends
  • Showing less interest in work or school performance
  • Using Ketamine when it is no longer prescribed
  • Going to several doctors in order to get a Ketamine prescription
  • Being dishonest, secretive, or defensive when talking about Ketamine use
  • Failing to reduce Ketamine consumption
  • Ignoring the effects of Ketamine, regardless of their influence on health
  • Stealing or borrowing money in order to get Ketamine
  • No interest in personal hygiene or appearance

Will I experience withdrawal with Ketamine addiction?


Becoming addicted to Ketamine means individuals are locked into using it. Their largest motivator is the looming threat of withdrawal, the body’s violent reaction to suddenly being without Ketamine.

The symptoms of Ketamine withdrawal can differ from person to person, but the most common include:

Treating Ketamine addiction: how it works

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When an individual has become dependent on Ketamine, it is essential that they receive appropriate treatment as soon as possible. This should be in the form of Ketamine rehab, a process of treatment that involves several important stages.

Ketamine detox

The first stage of Ketamine rehab is detox. It is the vital starting point of treatment because it prioritises the physical aspect of addiction, focusing on alleviating the body’s demand for Ketamine and the risk of withdrawal that prevents individuals from getting sober.

It aims to achieve this through progressing individuals through a carefully supervised plan of reducing their Ketamine intake. Detox sees them taking gradually smaller quantities of the drug in order for their body to adjust and not react too wildly to being sober.

It also ensures such a process is safe by having a team of doctors and specialists overseeing the treatment at all times. Progress is paced to suit how an individual is coping, and Benzodiazepines are prescribed to dampen withdrawal symptoms when they do arise.

This process continues until an individual’s body can withstand being completely sober.

Ketamine therapy

Once the body has been cleansed of its demand for Ketamine, the next stage of treatment needs to focus on the mind. Even without physical cravings motivating behaviour, an individual’s belief that they need Ketamine can still provoke unhealthy consumption.

In order to make this progress, therapy helps individuals identify and recognise their unhealthy ideas and conceptions surrounding Ketamine and dispel them. It also focuses on triggers which push them towards Ketamine use and helps devise coping mechanisms.

Ketamine therapy can adopt many different shapes to optimise its effectiveness. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can focus on harmful patterns of thinking, yet family therapy can target relationships and tensions which motivate addictive behaviours.

Relapse prevention and aftercare

When physical and psychological independence from Ketamine has been achieved, the rehab process is not yet over. Before an individual can return home and continue with everyday life, they must first work through relapse prevention.

Because triggers will exist in their day-to-day life and threaten to push individuals back into Ketamine misuse, rehab needs to equip them with the skills and knowledge for minimising this risk. These can focus on reducing trigger presence or their influence on behaviour.

Once relapse prevention is complete and an individual does leave rehab, they continue to make progress by working through aftercare. These therapy sessions or medical check-ups function to keep them on track and continually learn about living with an addiction.

Helping a loved one who is misusing Ketamine

Family therapy

If you think that a friend or family member has started to use Ketamine unhealthily, or has started using it without a prescription, there are ways that you can help. It is important that they receive support as soon as possible, and one option at your disposal is an intervention.

Interventions are events which can be arranged to help an individual face their addictive behaviour. Family and friends attend, each sharing how the individual’s Ketamine use has gotten out of control. The goal is to encourage them to seek help and help them do that.

Of course, interventions can be daunting events to think about and are not easy to execute effectively. If you are unsure of how to go about helping your loved one, you always have the option of talking to your GP or an addiction support charity.

Getting support from OK Rehab

If you suspect that you or someone you care about is misusing Ketamine, or appears to be at risk of doing so, it’s vital that you get support. There are services all around you that are available to help, but it can still be an intense situation to navigate.

At OK Rehab, we understand better than anyone how tough it can be to engage with an addiction. Identifying the condition and getting the right support and feel like an overwhelming task, and that’s why we are here to lend a hand and guide you.

When Ketamine addiction strikes, don’t hesitate to get the help you need. Give us a call on 0800 326 5559 and let our dedicated team be of service!