What Is Ketamine Addiction?

an image listing the symptoms of ketamine addiction

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

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Ketamine is a drug gaining fast notoriety with America’s young population. In 2020, 1.3% of 12th graders were found to have misused the drug for recreational purposes—this number was at 0.7% only a year prior.

Widely known for its medicinal properties, ketamine’s effects have made it a popular addition to the party scene. It has also joined the ranks of GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) and Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) as a date rape drug.

While ketamine isn’t the most fatal of substances when used alone, developing an addiction to this drug can greatly affect quality of life.

There are different ways to identify a person the signs of a potential ketamine addiction. We’ll be examining the symptoms to look out for, and factors that can increase the risk of developing a dependence or addiction to ketamine. This article will also look into trusted treatments that can help overcome ketamine misuse.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a compound with many potential benefits for the treatment of mental disorders as well as many risks, making it a "hot topic" in the field of psychiatry. Ketamine was first used in medical procedures for anesthesia in the 1960s. It has also been implicated for the treatment of psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia, treatment of depression, and treatment of addiction—although ketamine itself is a commonly misused drug.

The FDA first approved ketamine for its anesthetic property. In addition, the FDA now recognizes the antidepressant benefits of ketamine when it is combined with oral depressants.

As a Schedule III drug, ketamine is available for medicinal use with a prescription. It is sometimes used off-label for pain relief and can provide sedative effects.

The substance is misused because its effects are similar to PCP. Ketamine can produce a trance-like state in users. Coupled with its ability to produce an out-of-body experience, this drug can cause visual and auditory perceptual changes. 

While users report feeling complete bliss on ketamine, consuming high amounts of this drug can produce effects similar to a near-death experience.

Ketamine can disrupt the senses, judgment, and motor function for up to 24 hours after use. These effects have seen a growing and worrying use of this drug for date rape.

Because of its addictive nature, this drug is more commonly used in veterinary clinics to sedate animals. Ketamine is available as an injectable liquid but is also abused in powder form.

Ketamine Slang Terms

It is known by the slang names:

  • Special K
  • Vitamin K
  • PurpleKit Kat
  • Super Acid
  • Jet K

Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction

Users tend to form a ketamine habit very quickly. This is because of a tolerance build-up, where larger amounts of ketamine are required to produce the desired high. When a person becomes addicted to ketamine, the following signs may be observed:

  • Autonomic arousal
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Excessive salivation
  • Low appetite
  • Nightmares
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Tiredness
  • Unexplained bruises that occur during intoxication
  • Watery eyes

Ketamine addiction also makes it difficult for people to function as they normally do in their daily life and activities. If substance misuse disrupts work, school, and personal relationships, it can indicate a ketamine addiction.

Effects of Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine can be dangerous, particularly when combined with other substances. It is largely non-fatal when used alone—there is little on record of a lethal dose of this drug in humans. However, this drug can be fatal because it is usually combined with other substances like alcohol (which also has sedative effects) or hallucinogens like LSD and PCP.

Ketamine has a relatively short half-life (the time required for active substances in the body to reduce by half). Within 3 hours, at least half of the active ingredients in ketamine consumed will have left the body.

While the drug is largely eliminated from the body within 14 to 18 hours after the last dose, it can also have longer-term effects. People who have used this drug report harsh flashbacks even weeks after the drug has been cleared from the body. This drug has been linked to conditions like depression, hysteria, memory loss, and high blood pressure in regular users.

What Happens During a Ketamine Overdose?

A ketamine overdose can occur when the substances is taken in large amounts or when combined with other substances.

Because ketamine is consumed in liquid and powder form, or mixed in these forms with other stimulants—there is a high chance that a person using this drug has little to no idea of how much is being consumed.

This leaves plenty of room for excessive amounts of ketamine to be taken, amounts which can lead to an overdose. Likewise, snorting and injecting ketamine are common ways to consume ketamine, so this permits quick entry into the bloodstream.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, when injected, lethal doses of ketamine begin around 11 mg/kg of body weight. This could be a dosage of about 680 mg for a person around 60 kg.

When a person is experiencing a ketamine overdose, the following can be observed:

  • Chest pain
  • Extreme confusion
  • Fluid or other objects in the airways
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures

While ketamine overdoses are not strongly linked to death, consuming large amounts of this drug can be fatal. Combining ketamine with other substances can increase this risk.

Treatment for Ketamine Addiction

Addiction to substances such as ketamine is characterized by an inability to stop despite negative consequences, preoccupation with the substance, and disruptions that interfere with important aspects of life. When people try to stop using ketamine, they may also experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Ketamine Withdrawal

Symptoms of ketamine withdrawal can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Cravings
  • Lack of appetite
  • Low mood
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors

While ketamine addiction is serious, treatments can help. Treatment for ketamine addiction often involves some type of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy, family therapy, or group therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can assist with changing the thought patterns that play a role in supporting drug use and addiction. It can also help develop new coping skills and ways of thinking.

Rehabilitation centers can help with different treatment options, detox programs, and other necessary assistance for overcoming dependency.

No medications have been FDA-approved to treat ketamine addiction, but doctors may prescribe other medications to help treat co-occurring mental health conditions. Hospitalization may sometimes be required to manage serious withdrawal symptoms.

Where possible, the support of friends and family is also fundamental when recovering from ketamine addiction.

A Word From Verywell

Addiction can negatively impact quality of life, physical health, mental well-being, and relationships. Ketamine is no exception. If you think you may have a ketamine addiction, reaching out for help is not a weakness. Getting support from friends, family, and professional facilities can assist you in overcoming your addiction and living your life free of substances.

16 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Plumptre
Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences.