Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic and hallucinogen drug that produces sensations of euphoria, numbness, and floating or detachment from one’s self and the environment. As a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act, ketamine use in human and veterinary practices is considered relatively safe, but, the abuse potentials run high from the broad range of effects ketamine can produce in the mind, body, and consciousness.
Ketamine withdrawal symptoms are mainly psychological with physical withdrawal symptoms more noticeable in those who have a history of repeat high dose or injection exposures or those who are poly-substance abusers.
Many first time ketamine abusers are exposed to the drug via pill form or powder for snorting to enhance their moods and experiences at club scenes, raves, and other social venues. Ketamine can be orally ingested, snorted, injected, or smoked when applied to leafy substances such as tobacco or marijuana, or it may be dissolved in alcohol or other liquids to drink.
The effects of ketamine can be markedly intensified in higher doses and when used in combination with other substances which is often the case. As an amnesic drug and one that alters perceptions of reality while impairing cognitive and psychomotor functions, ketamine has been known to place abusers in a variety of dangerous circumstances including accidents, falls, and sexual assaults.
The hallucinogenic effects of Ketamine in high doses are comparable to the effects of PCP and a user can experience a different reaction each time they use it based on dose and administration route, their emotional or psychological status at the time, their expectations, and the surroundings in which they use the drug. According to a study by the University of Southern California, “many young people enjoyed the effects from sniffing ketamine and later transitioned into injection as the preferred mode of administration.”
Ketamine abusers who inject the drug to experience what they term as a “k-hole” effect end up having to consume large amounts of ketamine with relative infrequencies in being able to achieve this state over time. In their never-ending pursuit, however, they may experience effects that “increasingly come to resemble a mixture of cocaine, opium, cannabis, and alcohol; and become less and less psychedelic.” According to Karl Jansen’s book “Ketamine: Dreams and Realities” published by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Ketamine tolerance is rapid and there is usually an intermittent time between intoxications to allow the tolerance to diminish in order to experience the most desirable effects again, but, for regular and long term abusers, dependence may be more likely than other psychedelic drugs. Tolerance is the brain’s way of adapting to the altered effects of ketamine use. According to the Scripps Research Institute “Repeated challenges (e.g., excessive use of drugs of abuse) lead to attempts of the brain via molecular, cellular, and neurocircuitry changes to maintain stability but at a cost.” Dependence results as the person becomes reliant on the drug to feel better, relieve negative emotions, and maintain a sense of normalcy.
The neuronal adaptations in the brain that occur from repeat ketamine exposures are a complex mixture of NMDA receptor antagonist activities and the altered neurotransmitter processes involving all of the three main neurotransmitter chemicals we use to stay well including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
According to the SAMHSA, “Ultimately, adaptations that substance exposure elicits in individual neurons alter the functioning of those neurons, which in turn alters the functioning of the neural circuits in which those neurons operate. This eventually leads to the complex behaviors (e.g., dependence, tolerance, sensitization, cravings) that characterize addiction.”
Ketamine withdrawals occur upon ceasing use of the drug and those who use it more often, in high amounts, with other substances, or via injection are likely to go through withdrawals that get worse each time. Many of the effects of ketamine withdrawal are opposite the effects of ketamine intoxication. Ketamine users may go through multiple periods of dependence and withdrawal, repeating the cycles more frequently as the drug begins to truly wreak its havoc in their brain and central nervous system.
For the most part, the focus on mental health during ketamine withdrawal has taken precedence over the physical symptoms. Compromises in health and stressful environments may intensify the symptoms and prolong the duration of the withdrawals.A large majority of ketamine abusers are poly-substance users who have developed tolerance and/or dependence to those other drugs increasing the problematic conditions they face when ketamine use is stopped.
The accumulations of drug abuse adaptations throughout the course of the abuse history involve decreases in the reward pathways of the brain and the recruitment of many stress motivators that are not so easily reversed. Increased sensitivities to stress, pain, and other stimuli can result in a wide range of physiological withdrawal symptoms as well as the psychological withdrawals that most ketamine abusers experience.
10 Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms You May Experience
Many of the effects of ketamine withdrawal are opposite the effects of ketamine intoxication and will run their course in few days. Although the acute tolerance to the drug can be minimized over a period of 4 to 6 days, the residual effects on memory, cognition, behaviors, psychomotor functions, and emotions tend to linger in long term and chronic abusers.
The following are 10 ketamine withdrawal symptoms you may experience:
- Intense cravings
- Emotional instabilities such as depression and anxiety
- Irregular heart rate or blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Suicidal ideations or tendencies
- Psychosis including delirium, hallucinations, paranoia, or schizophrenic-like behaviors
- Aggressive or violent tendencies
- Cognitive impairments such as confusion or inability to focus
- Psychomotor functioning impairments including coordination loss and speech impairments
- Sleep disturbances including insomnia and nightmares