How Ketamine Affects the Body

Ketamine works by affecting a neurotransmitter known as glutamate. At high doses it appears to block this chemical messenger in the brain, leading to the anaesthetic effect of the drug. At lower doses, it seems to increase production, which can lead to effects such as hallucinations.

It may also be able to build new connections or synapses between neurons, which can be lost when a person suffers from depression. Some studies suggest that ketamine can have a positive short-term effect on some people suffering from depression but long-term effects are still being studied and there are risks involved. ‘Self-medication’ with ketamine can be very dangerous and should never be attempted.

Physical ketamine effects usually start soon after taking the drug and within a couple of minutes, users may experience an initial increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This will generally fall again over the next 10-20 minutes. Ketamine use can make the user unresponsive to external stimuli such as sights and sounds. In this state the user may experience a number of physical effects including:

  • Stiffened muscles
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive saliva
  • Tears running from the eyes

Ketamine users who are still wholly or partially aware of their surroundings may also experience confusion and clumsiness, slurred speech, blurred vision, anxiety and panic. Ketamine may cause some people to feel nauseous or sick.

The feeling of disassociation that ketamine can cause is sometimes known by recreational users as being in or falling into a ‘k-hole’.


Dangers of Ketamine Use

Like any strong drug, ketamine is linked to a long list of potential side effects.

As well as the dissociative effects, the NHS lists a number of side effects for ketamine being used in controlled doses to treat depression, including:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears)
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Mania

It also notes that long-term use can cause liver damage and that illegal use of the drug outside a clinical setting can cause addiction. The effects of ketamine addiction can make you prone to accidents or injuries. There is also the potential of a ketamine overdose, which can be dangerous and, in some cases, can lead to death.

As well as the short-term risks of ketamine abuse, there may be other long-term dangers. A recent review of the limited scientific studies on the subject found that chronic ketamine abuse was linked with “long-term cognitive impairment, mood disorders, psychotic and dissociative symptoms”.

The study authors noted that “prolonged ketamine use may indeed negatively affect brain structure and functioning”. They also pointed out that most studies involved ketamine provided in clinical settings, which involve much lower doses than those taken when the drug is used recreationally.

Some other long-term effects include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Liver and kidney problems
  • Abdominal pain
  • Ketamine bladder syndrome

Ketamine bladder syndrome is a painful condition that may require ongoing treatment. It can cause incontinence and lead to ulcers in the bladder.


Can Ketamine Kill You?

Because ketamine can cause unconsciousness with a minimal impact on airway reflexes or blood circulation, the risk of death from using ketamine on its own is low compared to some other drugs such as opioids, which do restrict breathing. Any drug overdose can be very dangerous, though, and ketamine can be particularly risky when taken with other substances.

When used with stimulants such as cocaine or ecstasy, the extra pressure can overload the heart. Taking it with depressants (like alcohol or heroin) can quickly lead to unconsciousness and could stop your breathing or allow you to suffocate on your own vomit. You can be at risk of injury, and people have been known to die of exposure outside or drown in the bath after taking ketamine.


Getting Help for Ketamine Addiction

If you are struggling with ketamine addiction or any other drug addiction or substance abuse issue, there is always help available. Organisations like Narcotics Anonymous can offer support, and mental health charity Mind has a good list of contacts and resources available in person, online or over the telephone.

Residential ketamine rehab can also be a very effective way to treat ketamine addiction. If you need help, contact us today or phone us on 01908 489 421 for confidential advice on the next steps to take.


John Gillen - Author - Last Updated: 20 February 2023

John has travelled extensively around the world, culminating in 19 years’ experience looking at different models. He is the European pioneer of Nad+ (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) treatment to Europe in 2010; and recently back from the USA bringing state of the art Virtual Reality Relapse Prevention and stress reduction therapy. his passion extends to other metabolic disturbances and neurodegenerative diseases.

The journey continues, in recent times john has travelled to Russia to study and research into a new therapy photobiomudulation or systemic laser therapy working with Nad+ scientists and the very best of the medical profession in the UK and the USA, together with Nadcell, Bionad Clinics own select Doctors, nurses, dieticians and therapists, Johns’ passion continues to endeavour to bring to the UK and Europe new developments with Nad+ therapy in preventive and restorative medicine and Wellness. In 2017 John Gillen was made a visiting Professor at the John Naisbitt university in Belgrade Serbia.

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