Ketamine is used daily in emergency units everywhere to sedate people with pain. It is a basic element in the emergency kit of any doctor and is usually used to anesthetize people who are suffering from something unpleasant, such as draining an abscess or relocating a dislocated shoulder. Some research in recent years has revealed that keta could be a viable treatment for depression. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association itself has published an article about it.
But ketamine has another great use. It is found on dance floors around the world every week, where thousands of ravers use it to endure until the early hours of the morning. In 1999, the Drug Enforcement Administration considered it a drug susceptible to causing addiction and classified it as a controlled substance of list III.
Because of what we medically know about ketamine – which clouds your senses and influences brain functions – it is not difficult to imagine why some people consume it without a prescription. But to try to understand in depth why people take ketamine when they party, we consult with an expert.
Dr. Andrew Monte is an associate professor of Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology at the University of Colorado. He studies how illicit substances affect the body and is especially interested in what he calls an “abusive use of novel and synthetic drugs,” which is a term among doctors for “recreational drugs.” He explained what ketamine is, what its side effects are and how to consume it safely.
What is ketamine?
It is a central nervous system sedative. It is also used as a general anesthetic, a medicine that doctors and veterinarians use for surgical interventions.
What are the psychological and psychiatric effects of ketamine?
In low doses, it is a sedative. As the dose increases, it becomes what we call a “dissociative anesthetic,” which means that the central nervous system almost disconnects from the body. This allows a doctor or veterinarian to carry out a painful intervention without the person or animal feeling the effects. We are talking about dissociating the mental capacity to respond to painful stimulations. In an even higher dose, it is a general anesthetic that causes people to fall into a coma.
What are the side effects?
There are three groups of major side effects. The first is a cardiovascular effect, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The second is the neuropsychiatric effect, a phenomenon we call an emergency reaction, which is when people wake up in a state of anguish and agitation, almost like leaving a bad trip. And the third is relatively uncommon, but it is an effect that can be life-threatening: laryngospasm when the vocal cords contract. If that happens, the person will need CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or mouth-to-mouth breathing. Sometimes patients also need assisted breathing. It is an unusual effect, but it happens.
Why do you think people consume ketamine to party?
The dissociative anesthetic effect is attractive to people who go to clubs and festivals because it causes hallucinations. If you take the exact dose, you will enter a ketamine hole [ K-hole ] that you have already heard about, and you will have hallucinations and a feeling of numbness in your arms and legs. When the perfect dose is used – something very difficult to achieve – it is probably a very attractive feeling.
But the hard part is finding the dose. If you fall short, you don’t notice any effect. If you pass, you can get into that hole, but you suffer the dissociative anesthetic effect and you lie around without remembering anything. With a little more and possibly you will fall into a coma.
Is it a safe drug?
We use ketamine daily in the ER for painful interventions. We use it to drain abscesses, to treat fractures and dislocated shoulders; well, we even use it for some patients who need a sedative for ailments like asthma Some of the side effects may even be clinically helpful. If a patient is critical and has low blood pressure or heart rate, but needs to be sedated for intervention, this drug is helpful because it increases the heart rate.
It is safe in the hospital, but we give it under controlled circumstances for specific indications and with thorough control. And we have numerous tools at our disposal to correct any adverse effects of the drug.
And how about out of the hospital?
What you buy on the street is not necessarily what you think you are buying. I do research on the excessive use of synthetic drugs and this summer we surveyed people at a Colorado music festival and tested those who said they had consumed ketamine. We did tests on a person who said he had taken it and we found no traces of ketamine in him, but of dextromethorphan (cough syrup). In addition, there are many ways to take this drug: in pills, snorting or injected; which is more dangerous. Each form has different effects. Ketamine deaths recorded mainly have been caused by combining this drug with others.
When you put it all together, without knowing what drug you are taking, the fact that people mix the drug with other substances and the unpredictability of the clinical effects associated with it and their different forms of administration make ketamine a drug too dangerous for the people who are partying.
Is there any way to take ketamine in the recreational field and safely?
The first thing is to do it with someone you trust, someone who can help you if you have problems. If you end up with laryngospasms, you need someone who is well to practice CPR. If you have an emergency reaction and you wake up in a state of agitation, you need someone there who can help you get back into you and take you to a safe place.
In any case, my biggest caveat regarding ketamine is that sometimes you think they are giving you ketamine when in most cases, I would say that 90 percent is not.