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Ketamine Abuse: Symptoms, Signs & Dangers to Watch For

Symptoms of ketamine abuse include confusion, unconsciousness, and stiff muscles, among others.

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Ketamine is a hallucinogenic drug commonly used in veterinary offices for use in animal anesthesia. It’s not designed for humans to use and abuse, and less than 1 percent of Americans do so. 

Since ketamine abuse is relatively rare, you may not know the signs and symptoms to watch for. They’re typically clustered into physical and behavioral groups. And some develop withdrawal and overdose signs too. 

Physical Signs of Ketamine Abuse

For some families, the best way to spot ketamine abuse is to look for signs of intoxication. They tend to be strong, severe, and hard to ignore. 

Common physical signs of ketamine abuse include the following:

  • Confusion 
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss 
  • Nausea
  • Numbness 
  • Sedation 
  • Stiff muscles
  • Unconsciousness 

Long-term use can cause bladder problems, kidney pain, and depression. People with these symptoms may be required to visit the doctor for help.

Behavioral Signs of Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine is relatively difficult to get, and it’s also illegal for people to use and abuse. People with a ketamine abuse issue may develop tell-tale habits due to the desperate need to keep their habits private. 

Behavioral signs of abuse include the following:

  • Spending large periods behind locked doors (such as in the bathroom)
  • Visiting veterinarians often, looking for drugs
  • Arrests for theft or breaking-and-entering vet clinics
  • Spending time with drug dealers 
  • Neglecting work or school responsibilities 

Some people are willing to discuss their drug use habits when confronted, but others continue to hide their behaviors. And they may grow even more secretive and abuse more substances after a difficult conversation.

Does Ketamine Cause Withdrawal?

Ketamine is so powerful that it can cause long-standing changes in the human brain. People who take ketamine for long periods may feel unwell between doses, and they can worsen when people try to quit. 

Ketamine withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Agitation 
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue 
  • Insomnia 
  • Muscle stiffness 
  • Shaking 

Some people develop withdrawal symptoms within hours of quitting the drug, and others don’t experience symptoms until a day or so later.

Does Ketamine Cause Withdrawal?

Many people who abuse ketamine take very large doses that others can’t tolerate. But even experienced ketamine users can take too much and overdose.

A ketamine overdose can cause the following types of symptoms:

  • Abdominal
  • Cardiovascular
  • Neurological 
  • Psychiatric 
  • Urogenital 

Some people develop seizures due to an overdose, while others just seem disoriented and sick. Seizures can be very dangerous, so it’s imperative to get help right away.

Doctors can use medications to control seizures and cardiac problems. They can also offer fluids to help push the drug out of a person’s body.

If you think someone has experienced a ketamine overdose, call 911 and ask the operator what to do next. Follow the instructions you hear, and stay with the person until help arrives.

Get Help for Ketamine Addiction

No FDA-approved medication can correct chemical imbalances caused by ketamine abuse. No pill or injection can make symptoms of addiction go away. But therapy and counseling can help you to control your cravings and reduce your relapse risks. 

Treatment programs often involve group counseling, individual counseling, and support group meetings. With these tools, you can stop using ketamine for good.

Updated June 8, 2023
  1. Recreational Ketamine Use Has Increased in Recent Years, but Remains Rare. (October 2021). New York University.
  2. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. (November 2016). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  3. A Potential Case of Acute Ketamine Withdrawal: Clinical Implications for the Treatment of Refractory Depression. (July 2021). The American Journal of Psychiatry.
  4. Ketamine Toxicity. (January 2023). StatPearls.
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