The Basic Facts About Ketamine

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Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic developed in the early 1960s and used in human and veterinary medicine. The drug is primarily used for anesthesia.

In the 1950s, phencyclidine (PCP) was developed as an intravenous general anesthetic, but because of its severe side effects, ketamine was developed as a dissociative anesthetic to replace PCP.

Street Names

Various street names for ketamine include K, Special K, Vitamin K, super acid, super c, bump, cat Valium, green, honey oil, special la coke, and jet.

What It Looks Like

Ketamine usually appears as a clear liquid or a white or off-white powder. However, it can be sold illegally in pill or capsule form. It is tasteless and odorless.

How It's Used

In medical settings, ketamine is given intravenously to induce and maintain anesthesia. In substance abuse settings, it can be ingested by mouth in pill or capsule form. In liquid form, it can be injected into a vein, consumed in beverages, or added to smokable materials. Some users inject the drug intramuscularly.

Who Takes Ketamine?

As a street drug, ketamine has become popular as a "club drug," used by teens and young adults at dance clubs and events known as raves. Because it is odorless and tasteless and can be added to beverages without being detected, it has been used as a "date-rape drug."

As a date rape drug, ketamine can cause the victim to not be able to speak or move. It can also induce amnesia so that victims may not be able to recall events that took place while they are under the influence, making it an even more effective date rape drug.


For the drug abuser, the effects of ketamine are similar to PCP, but not as severe and with a shorter duration. Users describe the high from ketamine as a pleasant sensation of floating or a dissociative state of being separated from their bodies. The drug can produce hallucinogenic-like effects, lasting a short period of time, from one to two hours.

Some ketamine users describe a feeling of complete sensory detachment, which they associate with a near-death experience. Others describe this experience as being so deep inside the mind that reality seems distant. This state of total dissociation is called the "k-hole."

Side Effects

Some of the common short-term side effects that ketamine users experience include:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Euphoria
  • Sedation

Severe Side Effects

Depending on the dosage, some users can experience these more severe side effects of ketamine:

  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Hypotension and heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Difficulty talking
  • Abnormal movements
  • Slowed or depressed breathing

Long-Term Effects

There is little research into the long-term effects of ketamine use, but some studies have shown that chronic use of the drug can produce verbal, short-term memory, and visual memory loss. Some research indicates that these effects on the brain are irreversible.

One British study found that ketamine use can lead to urinary tract problems. Users reported an increased urge to urinate, blood in their urine, leakage of urine, and pain on urination.


For voluntary users of the drug ketamine, the dangers—other than long-term cognitive effects—lie with the interaction with other drugs the user may be taking, including alcohol. Ketamine can increase the effects of other sedatives like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and opiates, which can cause death.​

For others, the danger of ketamine is that it can be slipped into a beverage without being detected. To avoid date rape drugs, drinkers are advised to never leave their beverages unattended, watch as your drinks are being served, and never accept a drink from a stranger.

Treating Overdose

In emergency room settings, ketamine overdose patients are treated supportively. Respiratory, cardiac, and neurological functions are closely monitored and managed.

Typically, the outward symptoms of ketamine overdose are the psychotropic effects, including dreams, illusions, and hallucinations similar to LSD and PCP users. Benzodiazepines might be given to reduce agitation. This requires caution, however, as in ketamine overdose ketamine was typically not the only drug ingested and over-sedation and drug interactions are a concern.

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Article Sources
  • Cottrell, A. M, et al. "Urinary tract disease associated with chronic ketamine use". British Medical Journal 3 May 2008
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. "NIDA Research Report: Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs Including LSD, PCP, Ketamine, Dextromethorphan." March 2001.
  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "Ketamine Factsheet.