Risks and Side Effects of “Street” Ketamine

Risks and Side Effects of “Street” Ketamine

As ketamine infusion clinics pop up in the US and worldwide, many people become tempted to try ketamine independently. Whether looking to heal depression or another mental health concern or just to try something new, it may not seem like a big deal to try ketamine at home instead of going to an expensive clinic.

However, there are risks and side effects of street ketamine you should be aware of before you attempt such a thing. It can be difficult to know how much to take when deciding your own dosage, and side effects can be dangerous if you are taking it alone. Dependence is another significant concern with repeated use.

What is Ketamine?

First, let’s go over the basics. Ketamine is an NMDA antagonist (or inhibitor), which means it blocks the activation of the neurotransmitter NMDA when it binds to specific receptors.

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic, which means that it has anesthetic, dissociative, and hallucinogenic effects. Other drugs in this class of drugs are PCP and laughing gas.

Ketamine has been used as an anesthetic for humans and in veterinary clinics since the 60s. More recently, it is being used as a treatment for depression and PTSD through infusions and as a nasal spray. While traditional anti-depressants may take weeks to take into effect, ketamine is fast-acting. The mechanisms of use are different from conventional antidepressants, and ketamine treatment may repair stress-related brain damage and increase brain plasticity. The effects of a single ketamine infusion treatment can last for weeks, while classical antidepressant medication needs to be taken daily, which mainly people with depression and ADHD struggle with.

Ketamine has also been used in the rave and party scene. It has also been used as a date rape drug due to the confusion and drowsiness it may cause. As a street drug, people tend to inject, snort, or smoke ketamine in a joint. A typical ketamine dose is 75 to 125 mg when taken by intramuscular injection, 60 to 250 mg when snorting ketamine, and up to 200 to 300 mg when taken orally.

Common Side Effects of Ketamine Include:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Involuntary muscle movements or muscle stiffness
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed heartbeat

Effects of Long-Term or High-Dose Use Can Include:

  • Psychosis
  • Amnesia
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Impaired motor function
  • Bladder problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Stomach pain
  • Depression

How Harmful Is Recreational Ketamine Use?

In one 2010 study looking at the harmfulness of twenty various drugs in the UK, ketamine comes in right in the middle at number 11. The study examined both harms to the user and harm to others. The researchers looked at 16 different criteria such as the links to violence, crime, dependence, and several other factors.

Leading the harm potential was alcohol (with a combined self and others harm score of 72 out of a possible 100), closely followed by heroin (between 55) and crack cocaine (54). At the bottom of the list were LSD, buprenorphine, and mushrooms, which had minimal self-harm and no harm to others (they all had an overall harm score under 20).

In the study, ketamine scored a harm score in the 10-20 range. Most of the harm measured with ketamine use was self-harm.

A 2020 German study that examined 33 substances found ketamine in the mid-range of harmful substances.

As you can see, despite the fact that ketamine wasn’t ranked as one of the most harmful substances in either study, it still has significant risks.

Drug harm level

Are You Actually Buying Ketamine?

Buying ketamine off the street instead of going through a doctor or clinic may be particularly risky. Street ketamine is sometimes mixed with other pharmaceuticals.

You may even be buying a different drug with similar effects, like PCP, which has more severe effects for a longer time. If you do not know what you are taking, you can not prepare properly.

It can also be challenging to determine the proper dosage for yourself, leading to an increased risk of an overdose or adverse effects.

Can I Test Street Ketamine?

You can buy drug testing kits to test

The Risks of Mixing Ketamine With Alcohol and Other Drugs

Combining ketamine with other drugs or alcohol can be incredibly dangerous and even lead to death. A 2011 report on emergency department visits found that of 1,550 ketamine-related visits, 71.5% also involved alcohol use.

Between 2005 and 2013, there were 93 recorded ketamine-related deaths in the UK.

The statistics included deaths by accidents (such as car accidents) and even suicides following heavy ketamine abuse.

Ketamine Addiction and Dependence

Another significant risk factor for street ketamine is addiction due to its abuse potential. The anesthetic effects make ketamine appealing for repeated use for those looking to escape physical or emotional pain. The short half-life means that some users will be tempted to use the drug many times throughout the day or night.

Ketamine addiction makes it more likely to experience the adverse effects previously mentioned, like damage to the bladder and kidney. Ketamine addiction can also have a high financial cost.

Like any addiction, it’s hard to know if and when a ketamine addiction will develop. There is no set amount of times that a person can take ketamine without becoming addicted. Ketamine has reinforcing effects, which increase its abuse potential. Once there is a psychological dependence on ketamine, it can be extremely difficult to break.

Ketamine Withdrawal

Ketamine addiction can lead to devastating consequences, like homelessness and losing one’s bladder. Trying to quit ketamine alone can be extremely challenging, and one needs all the support they can get as they go through withdrawal.

Ketamine dependence can lead to physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms when one is trying to quit the substance. Utilizing support such as support groups, addiction counselors, and in-patient rehabs can help one go through the process and come out on the other side.

Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Double vision
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Problems with coordination or motor skills


Today, ketamine clinics are providing life-saving relief for people who struggle with depression. While ketamine has therapeutic value for pain, depression, and other physical and mental ailments, it also carries risks.

It’s vital to do research before partaking in a risky activity such as taking a substance. Understanding the side effects, proper dosages, knowing what to expect, and having a knowledgeable and sober person nearby will help mitigate harmful effects.

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