Ketamine is also known as K, Special K, and Vitamin K.
K is an anaesthetic and is sometimes referred to as ‘horse tranquiliser’. It’s one of the chems used in dance clubs or during sex.
Ketamine can come as a powder or a liquid that’s dried to make the powder.
As a powder, K can be snorted, which is known as a bump, or added to drinks. You should not mix K with alcohol. It can be smoked if the powder’s mixed in a joint with cannabis and tobacco. Ketamine powder can also be mixed with water and injected into a muscle, but never a vein. K can also come as a pill.
Ketamine can boost your energy levels in small doses, or make you feel high, numb, cut off from your body, or in a dreamy, floating state. K can cause hallucinations and an out of body experience that can feel like you're entering a different reality, or meeting God or aliens.
The effects last 45-90 minutes if snorted and up to three hours if injected or swallowed.
The side effects of K can include dizziness, feeling sick, feeling disorientated, blurred sight and speech and throwing up, which is risky as you might choke on your vomit if you've passed out.
A large enough dose can cut you off from your surroundings and sense of self. This is called a ‘K hole’ and can last up to 90 minutes. You might find it hard or impossible to move or talk and in this state swallowing or breathing can be difficult.
Although ketamine can make you feel horny, it can make it difficult to get a hard-on or come. K is used by some fisters as it relaxes the arse muscles. As the drug makes you feel pain less, rough sex can lead to damage inside your arse or cuts and bleeding that aren’t noticed. This may mean more risk of HIV, hepatitis C and other infections being passed on.
Ketamine can lower your inhibitions, which might lead to unsafe sex.
Overdose deaths are rare, but you can build up a tolerance to K, with more needed to get the same result. Some people become dependent on it. Using ketamine long term might cause anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or memory loss and other mental health problems.
If you use ketamine often it can cause bladder problems, kidney or liver damage, stomach pains and blood in the urine. Ketamine can cause scarring and inflammation of the bladder making the bladder unable to hold much urine, causing a need to piss very often. These symptoms often lessen when ketamine use is stopped, but in some cases surgery is needed. Some people have had to have their bladder taken out and be fitted with a bag that collects their urine.
Depressants -- this includes ‘downers’ like alcohol, GHB/GBL , Valium, barbiturates. As K and other depressants slow the body and its functions down, the combined effect can knock you out and/or slow your breathing to a dangerous level.
HIV drugs – some of these, especially protease inhibitors, can cause higher levels of ketamine in your body. There is a theoretical risk that NNRTIs could also increase the amount of ketamine in the body.
Tobacco/cannabis – smoking cigarettes or joints when using K carries a risk of fires as K can make you unable to move. There is also a risk of burns as K’s anaesthetic effect can stop you feeling pain.
K is usually snorted in its powder form although some people add it to drinks. However, you should never mix K with alcohol. Sometimes people smoke K mixed with cannabis in a joint, however smoking it is unpleasant and can damage the lungs. Ketamine powder might also be mixed with water and injected into a muscle, but never inject into a vein. However, injecting is always best avoided because of the health risks it poses. K can also come in pill form.
If you share your injecting equipment there’s a real risk of getting or passing on infections such as HIV or hepatitis C. Injecting can also cause skin abscesses, blood poisoning, life-threatening blood clots or heart infections.
Someone in a K hole should be taken away from music and bright lights and reassured that it’ll be over soon and they will be OK.
K should be avoided by people who have fits, high blood pressure or heart or liver problems.
Ketamine is a Class C drug. Possession can mean up to two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Supplying, which includes giving it to mates, can mean up to 14 years in jail and/or an unlimited fine.
Read our page on Drugs and the police for advice if you’re arrested.
This article was last reviewed on: 28/10/11
Date due for next review: 28/10/13