Ketamine is a dissociative drug and is used as an anesthetic. The effects of the drug on the body and the associative signs vary according to the dose administered.
Small doses – about 20% of the dosage amount typically used in hospitals – such as the ones used by Ketamine addicts have a stimulant effect, while larger doses such as those used in hospitals have a sedative effect. The length of time the drug takes before its effects are felt in the body depends on the mode of administration used. For intramuscular injections, this is 1-5 minutes whilst for inhaling the drug it can take 5-15 minutes.
If taken orally, the time lag will depend on the length of time since and the size of the last meal and can be around 30-45 minutes. Its effects on the body also depend on the mode of administration and last 30-45 minutes for injections, 45-60 minutes if inhaled and 1-2 hours if ingested.
A variety of physical signs are typical of Ketamine addiction and include: visual impairment, reduced sense of perception and touch, reduced sense of taste and smell, confusion and euphoria, feelings of dissociation from the body, numbness of fingers and toes, memory loss etc. The user also has a higher than normal pain threshold. The psychological effects include Egocentrism, hallucinations, paranoia and sometimes schizophrenia.
The addict reports seeing patterns in their own world that convince them they are more important than others (Egocentrism). A state of stupor and confusion characteristic of extreme drunkenness is also experienced. Other signs include elevated cardiac activity, slurring of speech, feeling of paralysis, nausea, difficulty in moving around, impaired memory and learning ability.
The effects of the drug have been reported to last as long as 3 days after administration with symptoms such as mild schizophrenia and hallucinations being experienced. When taken in large doses, unconsciousness and cardiac failure have been reported. While death resulting from Ketamine Overdoses alone are rare, they are more common when used in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs such as benzodiazepines or ecstasy.
The tolerance of the user to the drug also increases rapidly with continued use and a plateau stage, where the drug no longer has any effect on the user, can be reached within a few months of sustained use.
The major effects of Ketamine addiction are therefore more psychological than physical. Sudden withdrawal of the drug, or lack of access to it, produces withdrawal symptoms of a mainly emotional nature such as irritability, sleeplessness (insomnia) and depression. Other symptoms such as a feeling of unreality, nightmares and disorientation are common. The drug acts by activating certain receptors in the brain.
These receptors are also responsible for many of the symptoms more common in schizophrenia. The drug also reduces hypothalamus function which results in a more emotionally charged experience. The physical sensation of leaving or being dissociated from the body is known as ‘K-Hole’ in street parlance. An addict of the drug spends a large amount of money to obtain it and is liable to bouts of anger and depression.