A-Z

Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Ketamine

What is ketamine? 
Ketamine is a powerful general anaesthetic that lasts for a short time. It has been used during surgery on humans and animals. It usually comes in liquid form which turns into a crystalline substance when ‘cooked up’ (on a cooker or in a microwave) which is then ground into powder and snorted.

What are the effects of ketamine? 
Ketamine dulls the nervous system and causes those who take it to lose feeling all over their body and go numb for a short amount of time. It can also cause hallucinations meaning that a person who takes it might experience sensations, sights or sounds that are distorted from reality or aren’t real. As with all drugs, its effect in each individual person can be hard to predict. The amount and the purity of the substance you are taking and your own emotional state at the time will influence your experience.
 
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Charlie researched ketamine carefully online before trying it. She experienced an ‘out of body’ sensation and intense visuals.

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I’d heard about ketamine online.  I’d never tried drugs that gave you hallucinations before.  It was an interesting new experience… we bought a few grams off the dealer.  We’d found that dealer via business cards posted through the letterbox, interestingly enough.  I don’t know quite he’s managed but he hasn’t being caught yet. But that’s a very cheeky marketing strategy and he was quite a cheeky guy. Anyway, I bought some ketamine and got two of my friends around and we had an interesting time on it.
 
And at the same time I bought some drug weights because I was always very cautious about the dosages. I wanted to know how much I was taking so I knew, had an idea what kind of effect I would expect. And again I researched everything very thoroughly online.
 
When you say interesting experience what do you mean?

 
I don’t remember exactly what it was like… It’s a very disassociative drug. It’s very… it makes you feel very free of your body.  It’s an anaesthetic so you can’t feel quite as well - you feel quite numb. I’ve very much gone off it now but back then it was an interesting experience because, because you can close your eyes and you get quite intense visual, not quite dreamlike but very intense visual effects which you can learn to control.
 

The negative effects of ketamine
People can get used to ketamine quickly and build up a tolerance. This means that they need to take more of it each time to feel the same effects. Taking more increases the chances of damage from the substance.
 
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Charlie decided to give up ketamine because of the negative effective it had on her. She was using it more and more.

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And why have you gone off it?

 
Well basically after that point I. It’s quite, it’s fairly addictive and I ended up buying more and more and when it got to about February, March I was in a relationship which was going wrong and I ended up buying far more of it than I should have and taking a lot more than I should have. So I ended up with. I wouldn’t say I was dependent but it was sort of semi, semi-dependent getting that way towards using it just too regularly and too much.
 
You were using it because of ?
 
Well at the time I wasn’t really reflecting on why I was using it. I just was but it seems fairly clear now that I was using it because things, I was using it as an escape rather than anything else. I wasn’t particularly interested in alcohol at that point. Like I’d tried ketamine and alcohol a few times and the mix is really not a pleasant one. I think I was sick twice after that and I never mixed them again. I have friends who do mix them and they are fine with it but I could never deal with that.
 
I found the negative effects outweighed the positive effects by the end. It’s not a very pleasant drug. You can get quite intense but very, very gripping fear on it because you can sort of lose your sense of self, and you can have very intense and fascinating hallucinations - but the unpleasantness of it and the physical effect is that you have very, very bitter taste at the back of your mouth and tongue which makes me want to retch a little. And I found that wasn’t really what I wanted to take anymore. I didn’t really want to take a drug and then lie down and just not do anything, just look into the back of my eyes.
 
Well I was afraid, I was afraid. I still I wouldn’t want to go near it [ketamine] again. I could do it every now and again but it’s the case of the effects not really weighing up with the...
 
What makes you, what is in the addiction that makes you afraid of?
 
It was the compulsive way I was using it. I was doing it and then watching a DVD or something, or I was doing it and I was just doing small amounts quite, quite frequently in the evenings sometimes and there wasn’t any particularly good reason for doing it. It was just a matter of habit. If you form a habit it’s hard to break, you know? I don’t think, it really isn’t physically addictive but psychologically it’s easy to get drawn into it. My tolerance increased really fast and I needed more and more of it to get similar levels of effect.

 

 
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Harry says that ketamine is very addictive and describes what happens when someone takes too much and goes into the ‘k-hole’.

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Dependent on drugs? yes, definitely at times.
 
Okay.
 
If I’d be in a certain mindset I think with ketamine especially, ketamine’s a very addictive drug.
 
But it seems now like for me out of all the drugs I think cannabis and and ketamine; I can’t really remember why I used to like them. They just, just seems very strange when I see people out who are sort of, I don’t know, sort of smoking like weed and stuff who are still doing it now and then people who are really into ketamine and just like a complete mess on the floor it just seems it’s not a good look, it’s not for me I don’t know why I got into that but that’s just like I said earlier it’s just escapism. 
 
It’s just very much your own self destruct mode, what else can I like how much else can I like how much like can I get it out of my system like it’s like sort of agressional whatever, it is that’s on your mind and then ketamine is that, is definitely that drug. Because like I said a little bit earlier like it’s almost like your dreaming like while you’re awake and sort of detaches your like because your part almost like you can’t really move that or speak that much and like you’re dreaming you’re having all these visual thoughts and it’s like, it’s like very much it’s a very like weird kind of drug and it’s very hard to explain unless you’ve actually taken it. But it’s from an outside perspective looking at someone who’s on it, it looks disgusting because you’re just like you’re just a mess but like the person what they’re seeing is like a dream like the visuals that are going in front of them and like they’re almost like I don’t know I’ve taken that drug and I’ve thought I was on holiday and stuff like that it’s just bizarre like it’s a very weird drug but... And it’s a different drug if you take a tiny bit than if you take a massive amount of it because if you only take a massive amount of it you go into this k hole state and that’s when you’re sort of like dreaming while you’re awake whereas if you take a tiny bit it’s just like bubbly sort of drug and your…….
 
Okay so it’s sort of the quantity?
 
Yes people like do it on the corner of their credit cards when they’re out or they do lines round a house they do a little corner and then it picks them up and sort of like bit wobbly a bit but not all not like dreaming like not hallucinating that much.
 
Young people described other bad physical effects that they and friends experienced when using ketamine. It has been discovered that ketamine use can cause extreme bladder problems. One of Alex B’s friends is a regular user and is receiving medical care for what appears to be a condition known as ‘Ketamine Induced Ulcerative Cystitis’ which is a bladder problem. Alex said that she started feeling ill after she began snorting ketamine.
 
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Charlie found that snorting ketamine irritated her nose and throat.

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And can you tell me about the sort of side effects of?
 
Well, I snort ket because I can’t really swallow it – I felt like I want to be violently sick afterwards if I accidentally eat it.  The main side effect of snorting, though, is the drips down the back of your throat and you’re left with a nose that doesn’t quite work.  The drips, well, you end up tasting them, and it’s kind of horrific and highly unpleasant.

Once you’ve started snorting, the taste wears off a bit – because you’re anesthetised.  But the first few snorts are horrible, horrible!  Sometimes I think of taking it again but the idea of that taste totally scares me off.  Obviously there’s other reasons, too, like fear of taking it too much, but the taste – ew, the taste alone is enough to make me not want to take it again.
 

 

Alex is worried about a friend his age who is having health problems from using ketamine.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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I know my old friend who takes a lot of ketamine very regularly I mean I’d say she’s probably addicted and she’s sort of having health problems because of it. I think she is getting stomach ulcers and stuff from sort of snorting so much of this drug which is, you know, it is quite concerning at her age.
 
And she is your age?
 
Yeah. 
 
Yeah it is. Has she reported it, has she talked to someone about it?
 
Yeah she’s been to the doctor but I mean I don’t know whether it will stop her from taking, taking it.
 
So how often does she take it?
 
I don’t, I haven’t seen her in a while actually. She’s at uni in [place] but I mean. I, possibly every day, yeah.
 
Seeing people who are developing sort of either physical problems does it sort of put you off?
 
Yeah definitely.
 
Mixing ketamine with other drugs
Some young people had tried ketamine alongside other drugs, intentionally and unintentionally. Sam experienced an unusual ‘come down’ (what people experience as the effects of a drug wear off) from ecstasy once and thought that the tablets may have been cut heavily with ketamine. He said that ecstasy doesn’t make you hallucinate the way that he did at that time.
 

Joe felt 'pretty rubbish' after using ecstasy, alcohol and ketamine. He was never tempted to try ketamine again.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I once tried ketamine which is a horse tranquiliser , at a party, again when I’d had, I was definitely, I think yeah, I had some ecstasy although that had, I hadn’t had much I think I’d had like, a bit, quite a bit earlier on and it had kind of worn off, plus I’d had a few drinks but yes someone recommended that I tried it and I thought ‘well I’ll give it a shot’ [slight laugh] didn’t enjoy it just felt very sick, very nauseous, just yeah I, I think it just didn’t mix very well with either myself or, on the culmination of, yeah the fact that I had already had ecstasy and alcohol, felt a bit sick, was ill and then lay down, yeah went to sleep and kind of slept it off just felt pretty rubbish I never tried it again after that so.

Last reviewed July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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