Ketamine Abuse Among Teenagers and Young People

With a spate of teen deaths hitting the media headlines in recent years, ketamine abuse is now recognised as a serious problem among young people. Ranked as the sixth most harmful substance in a recent Lancet report, Ketamine has gained a reputation as a “club drug” in recent years, and is available in settings frequented by teens including, parties, clubs and raves.

Common names for Ketamine are K, Special K, Vitamin K, Kiddie Smack, and Cat Valium.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is an anesthetic that has been legally approved and sold for human medical and animal veterinary use since the 1970s. Ketamine was banned in the UK in 2014 and is now a Class B drug.

People who abuse ketamine inject, snort, or smoke it. Low dose effects produced impaired motor abilities, impaired attention and mental functioning.

Higher doses of ketamine produce effects similar to hallucinogenic drugs, such as altered perception, dissociation, and hallucinations.

A ketamine trip is described in slang as a ‘k-hole’, users have described a k-hole as being being disconnected from everything including your own body, similar to an out-of-body experience. A k-hole is is often accompanied by extreme delirium, hallucinations or terrors (derealisation), loss of self-perception (depersonalisation), disorientation, loss of coordination, muscle rigidity, violent behavior among other severe symptoms. Ketamine is also highly addictive.

Why is Ketamine attractive to teenagers?

Ketamine is mostly used among teens aged 12-25 and is increasing in popularity due to its cheap cost and higher purity levels than cocaine.

Ketamine’s appeal to sensation-seeking teenagers includes feelings of euphoria, perceived sociability, floating sensations and magnified sensory perceptions. It can also cause feelings of euphoria, a sense of inner calm or tranquility, and in some cases, dissociation, which is the experience of mental thought seeming distinct from physical sensation. Users may also experience the sense of losing their identity, which can be comforting to those experiencing unpleasant mood disturbances, although it can also cause permanent psychosis.

Ketamine and the Developing Brain

Adolescence is an important time for physical and psychological development. Neurological development continues until the mid-to-late twenties, so young people’s brains are still growing and are vulnerable to damage from drugs such as ketamine. Drug abuse at this sensitive age can lead to poorer cognition later in life and impairments in the prefrontal cortex. A 2013 scientific study into the damage of ketamine addiction on young people, the majority in their teens and twenties, found lesions in the brains of ketamine addicts that appeared after 2-4 years of addiction. Cortical atrophy (usually found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia) was also found in the brains of these young ketamine addicts.

Ketamine Effects and Dangers

Ketamine has such a damaging effect on the bladder, that some users must have their bladders removed and wear catheters. Ketamine also causes irreversible damage to other organs including the kidneys, urinary tract, heart and lungs.

Use of ketamine among young people and teens can decrease inhibitions and encourage risk-taking behaviour, increasing the chances that a teen will drive while intoxicated, have unsafe sex or suffer an accidental injury.

Ketamine use and abuse can result in permanent cognitive disabilities, such as impaired memory, analytical skills, and focus/concentration. Life-threatening medical conditions/events such as fatally depressed respiration and high blood pressure can lead to brain damage and death. Persisting psychiatric disabilities such as hallucinations, amnesia, depression, and delirium have also resulted from ketamine use. Because of the depressant effect on the central nervous system, ketamine is particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol.

How to Recognise Ketamine Abuse and Effects

Ketamine is a dissociative drug that acts as an anaesthetic and blocks pain, so if you suspect someone is under the influence of ketamine, you may notice that they don’t react to painful stimuli in the usual way. Ketamine also leads to loss of motor coordination, much like alcohol, and the user’s movements may be exaggerated and their speech slurred. Ketamine also produces hallucinations at high doses, so you may notice someone on ketamine appears disturbed, anxious, euphoric or aggressive.

Signs of Ketamine Addiction in Youth

Many of the initial signs of drug or alcohol addiction may appear to be normal teen behaviour. Mood swings and behavioural changes are a part of growing up. Addiction is a state in which a person has a tolerance for the drug due to repeated use, and they need more frequent or larger amounts of the drug to achieve the same effects as before.

Signs of drug addiction in general include:

  • Overall deterioration of the person’s mental, physical, and social functioning;
  • Neglect of responsibilities and relationships;
  • Discernable changes in mood and personality.

Rehab Advice for Ketamine Addicted Teenagers

Ketamine abuse and addiction are dangerous and can have devastating effects on the developing brain of a young person, as well as on their organ function and their future mental well-being.

It is imperative that addicted young people receive professional treatment in a safe and compassionate environment with trained experts and in a residential setting, away from outside influences.

It may be difficult for teens struggling with addiction issues to accept that they need help, but without intervention, Ketamine addiction can have shattering and life-threatening consequences.

Ketamine Rehab Treatment for Teenagers and Young Adults 

If you know a teenager who is struggling with Ketamine addiction, or you yourself are a teen struggling with Ketamine addiction, we can help. Our team of compassionate experts will help you identify your personal path to recovery and design a personalised treatment programme that fits your needs, your life, and your goals.