The first time Claudia was given ketamine as a routine anesthetic following her mastectomy, she felt more than a reduced level of pain. Her state of mind changed instantaneously, “like a spring breeze” had blown through her head. For people who suffer from depression for as long as Claudia has, ketamine is an off-label drug that has the promise to make patients with few options left feel healthier than ever before.

In addition to its dissociative effects and sedative powers, ketamine has long been known as a party drug embraced by trip-seekers from the counterculture to the club scene. Just recently, the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a component of the drug called esketamine. Under conditions of FDA approval, esketamine must be administered by a certified medical professional in a safe and controlled environment, such as a clinic or doctor’s office.

The nasal spray acts within hours, rather than weeks or months like most current antidepressants, and could offer a lifeline to about 5 millionpeople in the United States who suffer from major depressive disorders but haven’t gotten better after trying traditional treatments. That accounts for about one in three people with depression.

In theory, the numbers sound good. But, while ketamine continues to gain momentum among psychiatrists to treat severe depression, many others in the medical community are concerned about the drug’s powerful addiction properties, unknown side effects, and risks from long-term use.

What Is Ketamine

Ketamine belongs to a class of drugs known as dissociative anesthetics, which are used to induce and maintain general anesthesia before, during, and after surgery. An individual who is either injected or given ketamine intravenously can feel detached from sensations and surroundings, as if they are floating outside of their body, within a matter of minutes.

Considered safe when administered appropriately as an anesthetic because it does not reduce blood pressure or lower breathing rates, ketamine is also applied in a hospital setting for procedures involving:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Skin grafts
  • Orthopedics
  • Diagnostic procedures on the eye, ear, nose, and throat
  • Minor surgical interventions, such as dental extractions

Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine, or “Special K” as it is known among other street names, produces an immediate high that can last about 60 minutes. First synthesized in 1962 and used as a medication to treat soldiers in Vietnam, ketamine made an imprint as a hallucinogenic on psychedelic enthusiasts a decade later. Today, ketamine is popular in dance clubs and other recreational settings.

Taken orally as a pill, cooked and snorted as a white powder, smoked with tobacco or marijuana, or mixed into drinks, ketamine produces a euphoric or out-of-body feeling. LSD-like effects can be expected within 30 seconds if injected, five to 10 minutes if snorted, and up to 20 minutes if swallowed.

Depending on its intended purpose, ketamine side effects will differ depending on the size, weight, and health of the individual who takes the drug, and the amount and strength of the dosage.

The effects some people can experience can be terrifying. Within minutes, some of the acknowledged side effects include:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in perceptions of color or sound
  • Hallucinations, confusion, and delirium
  • Dissociation from body or identity
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Dilated pupils, sight difficulties
  • Involuntary muscle movements and stiffness
  • Slurred speech
  • Numbness
  • Memory loss
  • Reduced heartbeat
  • Behavioral changes

As anesthesia administered under the supervision of a medical professional, ketamine is a relatively safe medication. Unlike other anesthetics, ketamine will usually not alter airway reflexes or block the circulatory system. However, ketamine has been known to increase blood pressure and force added pressure upon the head and brain. That means not all patients are eligible to take ketamine.

These patients will have health conditions, such as:

  • Glaucoma
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Thyroid disease
  • Chronic alcohol addiction
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Chest pain
  • Mental illness

Ketamine’s chemical makeup is similar to phencyclidine (PCP). That means in addition to an elevated vulnerability to accidental injury, individuals who abuse ketamine may suffer from side effects that are both unintended and unpredictable, such as:

  • Addiction
  • Psychosis
  • Amnesia
  • Impaired coordination
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Seizures

For the most part, little is known about the effects of ketamine when abused over long periods of time. Some in medical circles believe long-term use of ketamine can lead to bladder and kidney conditions, stomach pain, and memory loss. Another fear is that sooner or later, individuals will gain access to ketamine illegally, begin to self-medicate and become dependent. And when dosage, the frequency of use, and tolerance levels increase, a decision to stop taking ketamine will become that much more difficult.

Abusing Ketamine With Other Drugs

The consequences of using ketamine with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous. Likely scenarios to consider include ketamine combined with:

Alcohol Or Opiates

Unintended overdose which could lead to vomiting, slowed breathing, coma, and death.

Amphetamines, Ecstasy, And Cocaine

Extreme strain on the body, which can lead to elevated heart rates.

What Are The Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms

After repeated use, the brain eventually adapts to ketamine, and the emotions that the user depended on will diminish over time. When an individual decides to stop abusing ketamine abruptly, the will brain continue to seek out altered neurotransmitters to maintain stability. The problem is the chemical modulators — dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine — are no longer imbued with ketamine.

From this point, usually for a few days, the body reacts via a series of withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Irregular heart rate or blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Suicidal ideations or tendencies
  • Psychosis
  • Aggressive or violent tendencies
  • Confusion or inability to focus
  • Loss of coordination and speech impairments
  • Insomnia and nightmares

Treatment For Ketamine Withdrawal

While the government has approved components of ketamine to treat severe depression, the FDA has yet to endorse any medication to compromise withdrawal symptoms related to dissociative drugs. For now, behavioral therapies and supervised detoxification remain the primary focus.

Why Should I Detox?

Ketamine abuse can lead to behavior that can be categorized as bizarre and dangerous. That’s a given. But, any other symptoms associated with a decision to stop abusing ketamine cannot be predicted with any confidence. That’s why you need a safe environment to detox.

Under the care of certified medical professionals, detoxification at a residential treatment facility can help you manage the general symptoms of ketamine withdrawal and prevent any complications that may pose a danger to your health and well-being. Here, a doctor can prescribe medications to ease the discomfort from withdrawal symptoms and highly trained staff can monitor any cravings, psychosis, motor Impairments, high blood pressure and respiratory issues in a peaceful and secure environment.

What Is The Next Treatment Step?

Perhaps the greatest danger related to ketamine withdrawal is in your head. You need to begin to deal with reality, which means another relapse should not be a part of your recovery program. An extended stay at a residential treatment center is a place where you can develop behavioral techniques that can help you to start thinking rationally again and deal with life on life’s terms. To strengthen your resistance to relapse and to start feeling good about yourself during your stay, you will also be exposed to group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational lectures and workshops as part of your recovery program.

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