What Is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a dissociative drug commonly used in veterinary medicine. Humans who take the drug often experience hallucinations, including the feeling of floating above their bodies. For some people, the experience is so pleasant that they keep using the drug regularly.
Common Symptoms of Ketamine Withdrawal
After long periods of drug use, brain cells become accustomed to ketamine and malfunction without it. Withdrawal symptoms arise due to that brain cell dysfunction.
Ketamine withdrawal is variable, and it can look different from person to person.
Common symptoms of ketamine withdrawal include the following:
- Drug cravings
- Heartbeat abnormalities
Researchers say that some people experience unusual ketamine withdrawal symptoms. Those people can experience an extremely agitated state shifting back to calmness. These large movements between relaxation and anger can be hard to see, and they can be hard to control.
Understanding the Withdrawal Process
Ketamine works directly on NMDA receptors, which play a key role in regulating things like breathing and heart rates. The drug also attaches to dopamine receptors, which are responsible for the “high” the drug can deliver.
When brain cells are continually exposed to ketamine, they change accordingly. Your body may produce fewer key chemicals since ketamine is artificially raising their amounts.
When you quit ketamine after long periods of use, your body must find its new normal. In time, brain cells will produce normal amounts of chemicals and respond to those signals appropriately. However, until that process is complete, you may feel sick and depressed due to the lack of ketamine boost your cells are accustomed to.
Typical Ketamine Withdrawal Timeline
Ketamine intoxication typically lasts between 15 minutes and several hours, depending on factors like the dose taken, the way it was administered, and how sensitive you are to the drug. Withdrawal symptoms can begin when your body has processed the last dose you took.
Since ketamine withdrawal is so variable, it’s difficult to provide a firm withdrawal schedule. Everyone’s process might look a little different.
If there is a typical withdrawal timeline, it might look like the following:
- 15 minutes to several hours: Withdrawal symptoms begin, and they can be very mild and easy to ignore.
- Within six hours: Symptoms intensify and become much harder to ignore.
- Following weeks: Symptoms begin to lessen and fade.
Researchers say most people with ketamine addiction often feel restored to health within about a month without treatment. But entering an addiction treatment program could help it move faster.
Does Everyone Experience Ketamine Withdrawal?
Some people experience very strong and persistent ketamine withdrawal symptoms. But others don’t have symptoms like this when they quit using the drug.
Researchers say that ketamine symptoms are dose-dependent, meaning they’re stronger when people take larger amounts. People who abuse small amounts may not develop withdrawal even if they use the drug regularly.
People who use ketamine via IV injection (rather than swallowing it) may also have stronger withdrawal symptoms.
Other factors that could intensify ketamine withdrawal include the following:
- Age: Older people tend to have stronger withdrawal symptoms than their younger counterparts.
- Health: People with organ difficulties have stronger withdrawal symptoms, as they need more time to process their doses.
- Habits: People who used very high doses very often may have stronger withdrawal symptoms than others.
- Contamination: Some ketamine doses contain other elements, including fentanyl. People who took these drugs may have withdrawal symptoms caused by contaminants.
Managing Withdrawal Symptoms
Ketamine use can be life-threatening, especially in people with cardiac problems. It’s important for anyone moving through difficult withdrawal to get help from a doctor.
If someone is experiencing ketamine withdrawal, take the following steps:
- Ask about symptoms. Some people can describe how they’re feeling, while others struggle to communicate clearly. If you can, encourage the person to tell you what they’re experiencing. You can share that information with a doctor.
- Ask for urgent help. If the person isn’t breathing, is severely confused, or talks about heart or chest pain, call 911 and ask the operator what to do next.
- Get non-urgent care. If the person isn’t experiencing life-threatening complications but still doesn’t feel well, call your doctor and ask what to do next. You might be referred to urgent care or a hospital.
- Treat the addiction. Without a follow-up addiction treatment program, the person remains at risk of returning to ketamine abuse and experiencing withdrawal again.
Detoxing From Ketamine
Since withdrawal symptoms can be so variable, it’s never wise to handle the process alone. Mild symptoms like anxiety could worsen, and you could develop tremors in time.
In a detox program, a doctor can assess your symptoms and create a recovery plan. Researchers say some people benefit from medications like diazepam in their recovery, and if they use them in a controlled setting like a rehab center, they won’t abuse them. Your doctor can determine if medication will be the right decision for your detox process.
When detox is complete, centers can arrange for further treatment. Detox alone isn’t enough to address an addiction issue. People need psychotherapy to understand their drug triggers and build their coping skills. A rehab center can smooth the transition from one program to another.
While you’re detoxing from ketamine, consider the following tips:
- Break ties with your drug dealers.
- Eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water.
- Rest and sleep when you can.
- Exercise when you feel up to it.
Your friends, family, and community can be a great support as you move through this first stage of recovery. With their help, you can get better.
This is the time to build your support network of people you can turn to when things get tough. If you have a strong support system in place, relapse is less likely.
Get Help for Addiction to Ketamine
It’s not legal for humans to steal, buy, or use ketamine. If you’ve been abusing ketamine, it’s a sign that you need help. Know that treatment programs work, and you can get better.
Reach out for help, and be clear about your drug use habits and plans for the future. You can make a full recovery once you have the right guidance.
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- Spontaneous Remission of Ketamine Withdrawal-Related Depression. (February 2016). Clinical Neuropharmacology.
- Ketamine Toxicity. (January 2023). StatPearls.
- Ketamine Dependence. (June 2002). Anesthesia and Intensive Care.
- Brain Changes Associated With Long-Term Ketamine Abuse, A Systematic Review. (March 2022). Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.