Ketamine becoming more popular as new drug of choice

Ketamine is associated with a horse tranquiliser and as a painkiller during the Vietnam war. However, its popularity as a recreational drug has been increasing, not only in clubs but also in the home. Although just 0.8% of young people aged 16-24 reported using ketamine during 2006 what it calls the attention to the experts is the rapid growth amongst people involved in the UK dance-scene. In this group the lifetime prevalence is 42% and has been increasing at approximately 50% per year over a five-year period from 1999 to 2003. More recent figures show that use of the drug increased nationally by 10% on 2006-07 according to the British Crime Survey, whereas other figures estimate 113,000 users in 2008 in the UK.

Ketamine is a stimulant drug whose main effect is to keep user awake. According to users, at higher doses, the person can enter a ‘k-hole’ which can result in the person separating from their body, leaving him or her slumped and completely immobilised. Unlike cocaine and heroin, it is not physically addictive, but, like cannabis and ecstasy, it is psychologically addictive.

The popularity of the drug, which can be snorted, swallowed, injected and even smoked can be explained because of its low price. A gram of ketamine cost £30 in 2006 and now the price has decreased to £20, half as much as the same amount of cocaine. It has been reported to be easier for some teenagers to obtain than alcohol or cigarettes and it is perceived as a “safe” and “clean” drug. However, there are studies that suggest that ketamine can be more dangerous than cannabis and ecstasy.

The Misuse of Drugs Act in 2006 classified ketamine as a class C substance which groups the less harmful drugs. According to experts, ketamine use can cause heart, lung failure and urinary tract problems. A report published in the British Journal of Medical and Surgical Urology in 2008 asserted that whilst ketamine use increases urologists should expect an increase in presentation of patients with severe urinary tract symptoms. They recommend as harm reduction strategies to focus towards cessation of use and increasing awareness amongst health-care professionals.

But if people are going to use ketamine, there are some advices for them to follow in order to diminish harm. Ketamine is known as ‘wobbly’ because it can make people disorientated and unstable, that is why is very important to choose the right place and the right doses. Its dysphasic effect makes people disconnect from the world. To counterbalance this consequence, it is advisable to stay engaged with the real world, the more connected and grounded ketamine users are with their lives, the more they will be able to take a time out with ketamine. Breaks will reduce the damages to the bladder that might cause its consistent use.

As a stimulant, ketamine makes the body run at an accelerated rate, which make the body temperature goes up. It is important to keep the body hydrated and drink about a small bottle of water gradually each hour. If users take big doses they may have very limited memory of what has happened, “there is no point spending money to socialise with your mates if you have no memory of it the next day”, as a ketamine user put it.

Finally, it is crucial to have eaten before using ketamine. Regular ketamine users need to keep an eye on their weight, so it is important to reward the body with food the next day as well as good sleeping. Avoiding caffeine and other amphetamine drugs will make sleeping easier.

According to a survey carried out last year by the charity DrugScope the use of ketamine is increasing in Portsmouth, London, Bristol, Ipswich, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Blackpool and Newcastle. Its popularity is illustrated on the internet, with some users posting videos of themselves on the video-sharing website YouTube.