Ketamine is a medication that doctors use as an anesthetic to induce loss of consciousness. Effects include sedation and reduced sensation of pain.

The drug is a Schedule III non-narcotic that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for use only as a general anesthetic. However, doctors sometimes prescribe it for “off-label” uses, such as depression.

Off-label means using the drugs to treat conditions the FDA has not approved.

Some people use ketamine for its hallucinogenic properties. Ketamin can sedate, incapacitate, and cause short-term memory loss, and because of this, some people use it as a date-rape drug.

While ketamine is safe to use in controlled medical practice, it becomes hazardous if someone takes it for recreational use.

Keep reading to learn more about the uses, side effects, and risks of ketamine, as well as its interactions with alcohol and other drugs.

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Ketamine (Ketalar) is a dissociative anesthetic. Doctors use it to induce general anesthesia for medical procedures that do not require muscle relaxation.

General anesthesia denotes a sleep-like state, while dissociative refers to the effect of feeling disconnected.

Ketamine can produce hallucinations similarly to other drugs such as LSD and PCP, or angel dust. Hallucinations are distorted perceptions of sounds and sights.

Learn more about disassociation here.

The FDA has approved ketamine for general anesthesia only, but the drug has some off-label uses. Details are below.

Inducing general anesthesia

Doctors use ketamine to induce general anesthesia alone or with other general anesthetics, such as nitrous oxide. They use it in the emergency department setting to produce short-term sedation when:

  • reducing fractures
  • treating joint dislocations
  • repairing wounds in uncooperative individuals, such as children

Learn more about general anesthesia.

Treating pain

Practitioners use low doses that do not produce dissociation to relieve severe pain from the following conditions:

  • trauma
  • fractures
  • abdominal pain
  • arm or leg pain
  • low back pain

Learn how to manage chronic pain here.

Treating status epilepticus

Status epilepticus is when a person has a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes or has more than one seizure within 5 minutes.

Refractory status epilepticus (RSE) is a form of status epilepticus that does not respond to standard antiseizure drugs. It is a severe disease that can cause brain damage and death.

A 2015 study found that ketamine may effectively treat RSE. However, further research is necessary to verify the study findings and prove the safety of using ketamine to treat this condition.

Learn more about epilepsy here.

Treating depression

Research in 2017 notes that some studies indicate ketamine can quickly relieve depression in people who do not respond well to other treatment.

Despite these positive results, the authors warn that data on the use of ketamine for this condition are limited, so practitioners should consider the risks of the drug before prescribing it.

A 2016 study cautions that the inappropriate use of ketamine is a worldwide health problem due to its hallucinogenic properties. With this in mind, they urge doctors to prescribe standard antidepressants before trying ketamine for depression.

Learn more about depression here.

Treating anxiety

Research on the use of ketamine for anxiety is scarce. However, one study suggests that it may help people with social anxiety disorder (SAD). This condition involves a marked fear of social situations.

The 2017 clinical trial tested the drug on 18 participants and concluded that it might effectively treat SAD.

Because several other trials indicate ketamine may have significant antianxiety effects, the authors encouraged future studies to explore this possible benefit more fully.

Learn more about anxiety here.

The most common side effects of ketamine at prescribed doses include:

  • drowsiness
  • double vision
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • feeling of unease

Ketamine can also produce an extensive array of other symptoms that affect many parts of the body, but they are less common.

Learn more about the side effects of drugs here.

Evidence shows that ketamine is safe for use in people within a wide age range when taken correctly.

However, ketamine is only safe when a person takes the drug their doctor has prescribed for a specific purpose.

Despite the general safety, ketamine has the following risks:

  • Instability of heart and blood vessel function: This may include a temporary increase in blood pressure and heart rate or a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. Abnormal heart rhythms may also occur.
  • Respiratory depression: This can happen in an overdosage or if the rate of administration is rapid.
  • Emergence reactions: Such reactions include agitation or confusion within the postoperative recovery period.
  • Increase in intracranial pressure: Due to this effect, practitioners should closely monitor anyone who has high intracranial pressure.
  • Liver injury: The administration of ketamine may cause liver dysfunction.
  • Cognitive, or thinking, deficits: Some research reports that these effects occur in children.

Doctors do not recommend ketamine for people of any age who have conditions in which high blood pressure could lead to:

The drug is also not suitable for individuals with schizophrenia or who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Learn more about respiratory depression here.

The day after taking ketamine, a person may experience the following:

  • disorientation
  • aches and pains
  • impaired judgment
  • anxiety
  • clumsiness

Learn more about withdrawal here.

Ketamine makes people feel detached from their environment, eases pain, and produces hallucinations, which has led to its inappropriate use.

Individuals who take ketamine recreationally report sensations, such as being separated from their body or a pleasant feeling of floating. Some people have an almost complete sensory detachment that they compare to a near-death experience.

The drug is popular among teens and young adults at dance clubs. People who use it claim that a ketamine trip is superior to a PCP or LSD trip because it produces shorter-term hallucinations that last 30 minutes to an hour instead of several hours.

Learn more about why LSD trips last so long.

Ketamine also causes individuals to have no memory of events that happen while they are under its influence. Due to this effect and its ability to sedate and incapacitate, some people use it as a date-rape drug. Perpetrators who use it in this manner may slip it into a beverage of the person they wish to victimize. Because it is odorless and tasteless, someone cannot detect it.

Street names of ketamine include:

  • Cat tranquilizer
  • Jet K
  • Cat valium
  • Purple
  • Kit Kat
  • Special La Coke
  • Super K
  • Special K
  • Super acid
  • Vitamin K

It is important to note that ketamine is no longer safe when individuals take it inappropriately. The danger increases with regular use since it can harm health and other aspects of life. The side effects and risks can be so severe that they cause death.

Learn more about the effects of drug misuse here.

Ketamine and alcohol

No person with alcohol abuse disorder or alcohol intoxication should take ketamine, even in doctor-prescribed doses, as it can cause death. Both alcohol and ketamine are central nervous system depressants, so the combined effects are dangerous.

Learn more about alcohol abuse here.

Ketamine and other drugs

The following adverse drug interactions are possible:

  • Theophylline (Theo 24) or aminophylline (Norphyl): These drugs treat airway obstruction in people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Taking one of them together with ketamine may lower the threshold for seizures, which would increase their risk.
  • Vasopressin (Vasostrict): This class of drugs constricts blood vessels and helps treat low blood pressure. Because ketamine also has this effect, a doctor should prescribe a lower dose to avoid the dangers of too much blood vessel constriction.
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants: The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. Drugs that suppress CNS action include benzodiazepines, which are antianxiety medications, such as diazepam (Valium), or opioid pain relievers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin). Taking one of these with ketamine may result in profound sedation, coma, and death.

Aside from the above drug interactions, a 2017 study reports that taking ketamine with amphetamine-like stimulants can produce undesirable effects.

Amphetamines may worsen the thinking disorders associated with ketamine, while ketamine may worsen depression, anxiety, and lack of energy.

A person taking ketamine should check with their doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications.

Learn more about drug interactions here.

Overdose

One of the dangers of ketamine overdose involves a higher risk of accidents and injuries due to impaired alertness. High doses can also cause death that stems from their physical effects.

If an individual experiences any of the following symptoms, a bystander should call 911 to get immediate medical attention:

Learn about DMT, a drug that can cause a hallucinatory near-death experience.

The Controlled Substance Act classifies ketamine as a Schedule III non-narcotic drug. Because of its pain-relieving and mental effects, it can cause dependence, the need to take higher doses to get the same effect, and addiction.

Like any other addiction, ketamine can create a powerful bond that takes control of a person’s life. It is critically important that an individual who engages in inappropriate use of ketamine get professional counseling and treatment.

Learn more about the symptoms of addiction here.

Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:

Ketamine is a general anesthetic that doctors find useful in emergency room settings when performing procedures, such as reducing fractures and treating joint dislocations.

Some studies suggest the drug may have other medical uses, but more research is necessary to prove its safety and effectiveness in these areas.

It is important to distinguish between the valid medical uses and the nonmedical uses of the drug. Although people with certain heart conditions should not take ketamine, it is generally safe when a trained professional administers it in clinical settings.

In contrast, no recreational use of the drug is safe, as it can cause addiction and adverse health effects that can lead to death.