Overview: Ketamine is the drug flavor-of-the-month
in much of the United States and Europe right now, particularly
among dance-club devotees and ravers. As drugs-of-the-month go,
they could have picked a better one. Developed as a surgical
anesthetic, K adds in a twist of hallucinogenic effects, much
like its better-known chemical cousin and pharmacological predecessor,
PCP. And its weird mix of effects is also earning it a reputation
for being every bit as unpredictable.
Street names: K, Special K, Vitamin K.
Appearance: Although pharmaceutical ketamine is
liquid, it’s often microwaved until dry, then crushed into a
Actions/Effects: In the brain, ketamine acts at the same
receptor sites as PCP, and alters the function of several neurotransmitter
systems. Drug effects come on fast, usually within 15 seconds
of injection or inhalation. After a brief period (10-15 minutes)
of unconsciousness and a longer period (30-40 minutes) of anesthesia,
users commonly report intense hallucinations, depersonalization,
out-of-body experiences, and bizarre or mystical experiences.
Side Effects/Risks: Common side effects include muscle spasm,
blurred vision, dizziness, slurred speech, respiratory depression,
and impaired coordination. Visual “flashbacks” are
sometimes reported days or weeks after use. Also, amnesia, aggressive
behavior, and paranoid or delusional thinking sometimes occur.
Duration: Depends on dose. Impaired thinking may
persist for hours.
Addiction Potential: Tolerance to effects builds quickly,
and habituation is possible.
Medical Uses: Although ketamine was developed as a
surgical anesthetic, the “emergence” reactions it triggers
on awakening limited its acceptance. Today, it’s mostly used
in surgery involving children (who report fewer side effects),
and for veterinary procedures.
Legal Issues: For years, ketamine was not a controlled
substance, but was placed under Schedule III of the Controlled
Substance Act by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1999.
Several states have also increased penalties for its possession
Trends: Like many previous holders of drug-of-the-month
status, ketamine is better-known than it is commonly-used. Interest
in it seems mostly fueled by media coverage, since only 529 emergency-room
admissions nationwide were linked to use of the drug in 2009.