As a group, “other worldly” effects most characterize hallucinogens as recreational-type drugs. What most distinguishes one hallucinogen from another has to do with how these effects play out. Ketamine, one of the many dissociative-type hallucinogens, creates these effects by interfering with the brain’s information processing functions.
As with most all hallucinogens, ketamine’s effects can be highly unpredictable. With ketamine abuse, this unpredictability factor compounds with each successive dose.
Over time, regular users of ketamine will likely start to notice certain changes take shape as the drug’s influence over brain function increases. Herein lies the danger of ketamine abuse.
Ketamine & Its Uses
Ketamine belongs to the dissociative class of hallucinogen drugs. Dissociatives, in general, block incoming sensory information and prevent the brain from processing external stimuli. Ketamine effects can be used for medical purposes, which accounts for its classification as a Schedule III controlled substance.
According to the University of Maryland, the drug is commonly used as an anesthetic due to its ability to block out pain sensations. Ketamine can also produce a “high” effect at certain dosage levels making for an often-used recreational drug.
A ketamine “high” produces mind-altering effects in the form of:
- Seeing visions or illusions
- Feelings of detachment from the body
For recreational users, ketamine abuse practices develop out of the cumulative effects of the drug on the brain.
Ketamine Effects in the Brain
As an anesthetic-type drug, ketamine abuse effects can vary depending on the dosage amount ingested. According to New York University-Steinhardt, ketamine works by decreasing glutamate production in the brain. Glutamate, a primary neurotransmitter chemical, regulates electrical activity, which for the most part determines how quickly the brain processes information.
By decreasing glutamate activity, ketamine impedes information flow throughout the brain and central nervous system to the point where certain areas of the brain can shut down altogether. These interactions produce ketamine’s anesthetizing effects.
In general, any drug capable of altering brain chemical pathways carries a potential for abuse. Likewise, ongoing ketamine abuse can take on a life of its own as the brain’s overall chemistry starts to change. After a certain point, ketamine abuse practices can bring on dangerous health effects.
Ketamine Abuse Dangers
Hallucinogens, in general, produce unpredictable effects, according to Columbia Health. Whereas one drug experience may be exhilarating, another can bring on horrifying hallucinations. Also known as “bad trips,” users run the risk of experiencing some of the more undesirable effects of the drug with each successive dose.
In most cases, certain factors influence the type of drug experience a person will have. Factors most likely to dictate the outcome include:
- The surrounding environment – unfamiliar or busy environments tend to agitate the drug’s effects
- A person’s mood – since ketamine directly alters serotonin levels and serotonin regulates mood states, someone in a bad mood is more likely to experience a “bad trip”
- Expectations going in – also related to serotonin’s effects as someone who’s afraid to try ketamine will likely experience a “bad trip”
This type of drug experience comes with some pretty unsavory effects, including:
- Deep, dark feelings of despair
- The sensation of bugs crawling along the skin
- Strange, frightening hallucinations
- Feelings of terror
- Extreme anxiety
- Feeling trapped or closed in
- Hearing deafening sounds
Someone who engages in ketamine abuse on a regular basis has a higher likelihood of experiencing “bad trips.”
The K-Hole Effect
When ingested in large dosage amounts, ketamine’s anesthetic properties come into full play. Once users enter into a state of total helplessness, the k-hole effect has taken hold.
The k-hole effect produces the following symptoms:
- Inability to move
- Inability to communicate with others
- Numbness as in unable to feel any type of physical sensation
The k-hole effect leaves a person unable to interact with the outside world, which accounts for ketamine’s label as a “date rape” drug. In effect, ketamine abuse practices leave a person totally vulnerable to his or her surrounding environment.
The hallucinatory effects brought on by ketamine result from a massive influx of neurotransmitter chemicals throughout the brain. Consequently, chronic and/or long-term ketamine abuse can have a considerable impact on the brain’s overall chemical balance.
Over time, the effects of ketamine abuse warp the brain’s cognitive functions to the point where users start to experience flashback episodes of previous drug “trips.” According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, flashbacks develop at any time and draw from any drug experiences had in the past, whether good or bad. These conditions can persist for months or even years after a person’s last drug use.
Overdose & Fatality Risks
Ketamine’s anesthetic effects depress or slow down many of the body’s major systems, one of which being the respiratory system. These effects become all the more dangerous when a person uses the drug while in a bad mood or within an unfamiliar environment.
Under these conditions, ketamine can totally shutdown the body’s respiratory functions leaving a person unable to breathe on his or her own. Considering the drug’s unpredictable effects overall, people engaging in ketamine abuse on a frequent basis face an ongoing risk of overdose.
Fatality risks associated with ketamine abuse have to do with a person’s state of mind while on ketamine. With little to no conscious awareness of the surrounding environment, users can easily injure themselves. In the event a person should vomit while under the influence, he or she could choke as ketamine incapacitates the body’s gag reflex.
While hallucinogens as a group carry a low risk for addiction compared to other drug types, ketamine addiction risk runs somewhat higher than other hallucinogen drugs. According to Brown University Health Education, the brain’s tolerance for ketamine can increase at a fast rate.
With each tolerance level increase, changes develop within the brain’s chemical pathways. Before long, the effects of ketamine abuse start to disrupt the brain’s reward system functions. Damage to this system sets the stage for addiction to take hold.
The brain’s reward system determines a person’s overall outlook on life in terms of his or her motivations, priorities and belief systems. With chronic ketamine abuse, brain chemical imbalances inevitably alter how this brain region works. Once addicted, getting and using ketamine becomes the sole priority in a person’s day-to-day existence.
Overall, ketamine abuse opens users up to a range of unpredictable effects, many of which can be long-term and even dangerous.