Ketamine is a tranquillizer used to numb humans and animals in medical procedures. It is also used recreationally.
Ketamine use has risen in recent years, especially among young people.  Unfortunately, ketamine is both addictive and harmful. There are increasing numbers of people using ketamine, with around 120,000 people using this drug annually, according to one estimate.  That also translates into more people needing treatment for ketamine addiction.
In this page, we discuss the most effective treatments for ketamine addiction, as well as other important points about this drug.
What is ketamine?
Although ketamine does have some applications in human medicine, it is typically used for tranquillizing animals. It has a powerful sedative effect, and can also make people hallucinate. For this reason, it is often used at parties and clubs.
Ketamine has lots of different street names, including Special K, Kit Kat, Vitamin K, Ket, Wonk and Donkey Dust.
The most common way for people to take ketamine is by snorting it, also known as ‘taking a bump’. It can also be smoked in a joint, or mixed in with a drink. Some users choose to inject ketamine since this method makes it enter the bloodstream the fastest.
What are the effects of taking ketamine?
People on ketamine tend to feel very relaxed, spaced-out, and dopey. They may struggle to understand things or slur their words.
Due to its anaesthetic qualities, ketamine makes you less sensitive to sensations such as pain. This can be dangerous since pain provides a warning to the body that it is at risk. For example, someone on ketamine may injure themselves without realising it and then fail to sort out the injury.
Ketamine can also cause you to hallucinate, and make you feel as though time is slowed down.
Taking more ketamine than your body can handle can cause you to enter a ‘k-hole’, where your body no longer responds to commands from the brain.
If you use ketamine regularly, this can cause a range of mental symptoms, such as depression, memory loss, panic attacks and anxiety.
What does ketamine look like, taste like and smell like?
When bought off the street, ketamine appears as a white or brown powder. In medical applications, it looks like a clear liquid. Its taste and smell are bitter.
When buying ketamine off the street, it is very likely to contain impurities. Drug dealers will often cut ketamine (and other street drugs) with other, less potent drugs, or even other non-narcotic substances, in order to increase their profit margin.
How long do the effects of ketamine last?
There are several factors that need to be taken into account in order to determine how long the effects of ketamine will last on a specific person, including their size, whether they have eaten recently, what other drugs they have taken, and the quantity of ketamine they have taken.
On average, though, ketamine begins to take effect around 15 minutes after being consumed (e.g. by snorting). This may be quicker if injected, but slower if taken orally.
The effects of ketamine are likely to continue for at least 30 minutes, although ketamine users will often continue to take more ketamine after their first ‘bump’.
Although the comedown for ketamine is not as severe as other drugs (such as MDMA, another popular club drug), it will still make you feel low for a day or so after consumption.
Ketamine is likely to stay in your system for several days. It can be detected in a urine test for at least a week after you take it.
What are the physical health risks involved with ketamine use?
- Ketamine is a strong sedative, which is often used to subdue large animals such as horses. It was never intended to be used as a club drug. In large quantities, especially when combined with other drugs, ketamine can be very dangerous to your health.
- Ketamine can damage the bladder. See below for more information.
- Ketamine can cause your heart to pump faster. It can also raise your blood pressure. Whilst it may make you feel happy and relaxed, it may also make you feel confused, incapable of expressing yourself, anxious and self-conscious.
- Ketamine can cause you to forget things that happened in the very recent past. It can make you feel nauseous, too.
- Due to insensitivity to pain caused by ketamine use, ketamine users are more at risk of hurting themselves and then failing to register that they have hurt themselves. This is a risk that is applicable to alcohol users as well. Ketamine also reduces coordination, which raises the chances of a fall or knocking into something. The combination of impaired coordination and reduced ability to feel pain is dangerous when it comes to accidents.
- Scientists have also linked heavy ketamine use to liver damage. The liver is responsible for a huge amount of functions in the body, including the removal of toxins from the bloodstream. When it no longer works as it should, this leads to a range of problems.
- Snorting ketamine can erode the lining of the nostrils.
- In combination with stimulants such as amphetamines or MDMA, which also have the effect of raising blood pressure, ketamine can bring a heightened risk of stroke or heart attack.
What effect does ketamine have on the bladder?
Though research on the negative effects of ketamine is still relatively new, its effects on the bladder are now quite well-documented. Ketamine damages the bladder through scarring, ulcers and inflammation. Ketamine bladder syndrome is similar to cystitis, which leads to a more frequent need to urinate, as well as pain in the abdomen. In ketamine users, this abdominal pain is known as ‘K cramps’.
Some ketamine users develop incontinence of the bladder, where they cannot control their urination. Others find that their bladders feel full all the time and that they can only produce a small amount of urine when they go to the toilet because their bladder has shrunk.
When identified at an early stage, ketamine bladder syndrome can generally be stopped, and may even be reversed. However, the further it progresses, the smaller the chances of the bladder being saved.
Complications of ketamine bladder syndrome include kidney damage and kidney failure, a perforated bladder, and chronic pain.
Treatment for this condition involves stopping ketamine use as soon as possible, painkillers and other medications, and in some more severe cases, reconstructive surgery, use of a catheter or removal of the bladder. 
What are the mental health risks involved with ketamine use?
In the long run, ketamine use can lead to problems with memory, flashbacks and a loss of mental sharpness.
Ketamine can also cause or exacerbate mental health problems, in particular depression.
There have been some attempts to use medical ketamine in very small doses to treat people for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  However, the scientific research for these applications for ketamine is still in its infancy.
Ketamine and the law
In the UK, ketamine is a Class B drug. It was promoted from a Class C to a Class B drug in 2014 due to concerns about its widespread use as a club drug and its toxic effects on the bladder.
Class B drugs include speed, mephedrone, ketamine, cannabis and some amphetamines.
If you are caught in possession of ketamine, you can get up to 5 years in prison. If you are caught supplying ketamine to someone else, you can get up to 14 years in prison.
Although ketamine is not physically addictive, it is still possible to get addicted. People who are addicted to ketamine have developed a ‘psychological dependence’, whereby they feel hooked on the drug, even though their bodies are not craving it in the same way that people crave drugs like heroin. Ketamine addiction is more comparable to cocaine addiction, which is also a psychological dependence.
One can also develop a tolerance to ketamine. This means that more ketamine is required to achieve the same effects. As tolerance builds up, ketamine users are more likely to take bigger doses of the drug, which raises the chances of developing physical symptoms such as bladder problems or damaged nostrils.
If you continue to take ketamine, even though you know it is causing you harm, then that is one sign you may be addicted.
Other signs include: trying and failing to quit the drug; missing out on work and education responsibilities in order to take more ketamine; spending a lot of time thinking about how you are going to get your next fix, and having poor relationships with friends and family due to ketamine use.
Ketamine addiction treatment
Ketamine addiction is definitely treatable, and there is a range of treatment options available to people who have this addiction.
The first step, as with any addiction, is to detoxify. You can do this at home or in a rehab facility. At rehab facilities, staff will be available to offer medication and support during the detox process.
The good thing about ketamine detox is that there are unlikely to be many physical withdrawal symptoms, due to the fact that ketamine is not very physically addictive. However, there may still be psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.
If you would like help managing these withdrawal symptoms, you may want to consider detoxing in an inpatient rehab, where staff can help you to overcome your withdrawal symptoms and rid your body of toxins.
After you detox, you can have therapy to help you understand the causes of your ketamine addiction. Addictions are often the outcome of a set of negative circumstances, including poverty, neglect, underlying mental health problems and more. Knowing why you became addicted to ketamine will help you to avoid a relapse in the future.
Therapy can also be tailored to your personal needs. You will be able to decide which form of therapy you want to undergo, based on what you think will be most effective for you. That way your personal requirements are used to guide your recovery.
Ketamine addiction rehab
In ketamine rehab, you stay in an inpatient rehab for an average of 28 days while you detox and undergo therapy. Some choose to stay for longer than 28 days. Shorter stays are also possible although generally people opt for at least a month.
In ketamine rehab, you will undergo various forms of therapy, including acceptance and commitment therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, and contingency management. All of these forms of therapy have a wealth of evidence to support them.
You will also have the opportunity to take part in Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings, which often take place during the evenings at residential rehabs across the country. These 12-step meetings will help to set you up for a life of sobriety, as you can continue to attend them after you leave rehab.
Other elements of ketamine rehab include:
- Family therapy. This form of therapy invites the family to join in therapy, which can be helpful for rebuilding trust in broken relationships.
- One-to-one therapy. This is important for giving you the full attention of a therapist so that you can go into detail about your own personal circumstances and what led you to use ketamine.
- Group therapy. Group therapy helps you to create bonds with other people going through the same experiences as you.
- Free aftercare. After your stay in rehab comes to an end, it is important that you continue to receive some treatment. Instead of just leaving you to fend for yourself, good rehabs will continue to offer you some forms of treatment, such as counselling, self-care, support groups and more.
- Free family support. Many good rehabs will also offer support to your family, since addiction is a family affliction.
Despite being more psychologically addictive than physically addictive, ketamine can still cause deeply disruptive addictions which require serious treatment.
If you or a loved one are suffering from this addiction, we recommend you get treatment as soon as possible. Addiction has the capacity to take over people’s lives completely. Once you are in recovery, we guarantee you will not regret kicking your ketamine habit.