Many people have seen ketamine on the news as a rising drug of concern. While many think of it as a ‘horse tranquilizer’, though it acts as an anesthetic, there are other uses. Additionally, a lot of research is still necessary to fully understand it. A lot of people use ketamine recreationally and frequently in a party setting. Subsequently, ketamine and alcohol is an increasingly common combination with many not realizing the dangers.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a common dissociative drug with use as an anesthetic for medical purposes. However, as is the case with many medical drugs, it is possible to find and buy on the street. Dissociative drugs distort the users perception of sound and sight. Many users report feeling expressions of dissociation from their body and mind and find it rather calming. It is possible for an out of mind experience to produce powerful effects and leave the user craving more. This often occurs given its blissful and calming effects. However, these effects are also addictive and can cause a user to abuse ketamine in order to feel happy or high. Some clinical trials show the possibility of using ketamine as an antidepressant. However, there is not yet approval due to the lack of understanding on how ketamine affects the brain chemically.
Ketamine was developed as a replacement for phencyclidine (PCP) but was discovered to have a high potential for abuse and was later categorized as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Specifically, ketamine is a Schedule III which according to the DEA indicates that it has “ a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Ketamine affects many neurotransmitters in the brain, but its full chemical mechanism is not yet understood. So far, scientists believe that it blocks the release of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA), which is an excitatory neurotransmitter. NMDA is part of the glutamate class of neurotransmitters which represent one of the largest groups of transmitters in the brain. When released, NMDA speeds up brain function and the firing of neurons in the brain and spinal cord; therefore, when ketamine blocks the release of NMDA, the anesthetic and dissociative functions begin.
Like any drugs, even if someone perceives there are positive effects, there are negative side effects as well. There are plenty of side effects from taking ketamine which often worsen in combination with other drugs. Some side effects include:
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Bluish lips or skin
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin rash
- Increased heart rate
Ketamine’s design is to slow brain function in order to help patients feel no pain during surgeries. Given that it slows brain function, it has the ability to affect respiratory performance by slowing your breathing down.
Mixing Ketamine and Alcohol
Alcohol, when taken in smaller doses, can have stimulant-like effects on the body and brain; however, it is classified as a depressant. A central nervous system depressant slows down critical CNS functions such as breathing and coordination. When mixing two or more drugs (also known as polysubstance abuse), the effects of one will enhance the effects of the other. In other words, the depressive effects of alcohol will enhance the depressive effects of ketamine and vice-versa. While ketamine overdoses are rare on their own, mixing it with alcohol can greatly increase the chances of a fatal overdose.
What is an OD?
An overdose, or commonly referred to as an OD, is your body’s negative biological response to having taken too much of a substance or mix of substances. Someone overdosing from a depressant (such as alcohol) will experience a severe drop in blood pressure, body temperature and breathing. A fatal overdose can occur if the effects of the overdose are so powerful, that breathing completely stops. Again, while ketamine overdoses are quite rare, mixing it with alcohol (or any other powerful depressant such as opioids or benzodiazepines) will exacerbate the overall response and can cause an overdose.
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