Ketamine was developed in the 1960s by doctors seeking to find an ideal anesthetic formula for those recovering from surgery.
They combined ketone and amine molecules and discovered a drug concoction that relieved trial participants’ pain and gave them an additional calming floating or out-of-body sensation with frequent hallucinatory side effects.
A dissociative anesthetic, ketamine was approved for pain management and relieving treatment-resistant depression, but this soon changed. Safer anesthetics like propofol were developed, sidelining ketamine to veterinary medicine. However, by then, ketamine had already made a name for itself among recreational users, self-medicating users, and as a common date rape drug.
Today, ketamine is most commonly snorted, but it is sometimes swallowed, injected, or smoked. It produces powerful psychological addiction in many users, whose efforts to quit are undermined by withdrawal.
Starting in the late 1970s and peaking in the 1980s, ketamine use outside of medical settings was in full swing. Ketamine appeared on the nightclub and rave scenes and gained popularity initially as a drug that enhanced the effects of other substances such as MDMA, or ecstasy.
Whether taken in combination with other depressants, like alcohol or marijuana, or stimulant amphetamines, like speed, polysubstance abuse of this dissociative drug is widespread and risky. Unfortunately, ketamine abuse leads to long-term health problems, such as nerve cell damage.
Due to its early reputation for treating depression and its relative accessibility through illegal means, many individuals develop ketamine dependence out of a desire to medicate untreated mental illnesses.
These cases are at pronounced risk of developing a ketamine addiction. However, the dangers of chronic abuse are easily overlooked in people hoping to alleviate some level of psychological or emotional distress.
At the same time, dependence on this powerful tranquilizer can amplify and reroute existing chemical imbalances in the brain in ways that make it very difficult to recover without dedicated addiction and mental health treatment.
Ketamine and Brain Chemistry
Although we’ve mentioned that ketamine use can produce psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms after cessation, it’s essential to understand why. As with most substance abuse problems, the answer lies in the nervous system.
Ketamine interacts with the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate – an abundant and important chemical messenger in the brain responsible for a large proportion of brain activity and communication. Ketamine has a reputation as a dirty drug among pharmacologists because instead of affecting and destabilizing one or a few systems in the nervous system, it produces complicated effects in many.
However, two systems bear the lion’s share of changes. When someone takes a dose of ketamine, the compound makes its way to the brain, affecting messaging in the limbic and thalamocortical systems.
The thalamus is a part of the brain associated with voluntary action and consciousness. Slowing down messaging in this system causes the hallucinatory and out-of-body experience of ketamine abuse.
The limbic system, however, is the reward and mood center of the brain. Here, the drug slows down excitatory nerve communication and produces tranquilizing effects. The limbic system also controls involuntary respiratory and cardiac functions.
Side Effects of Ketamine Abuse
Chronic ketamine abuse hijacks the reward and mood-stabilizing section of the nervous system.
Over time, ketamine users’ brains record the calming effects of the drug as positive and desirable, wiring themselves to experience long-term cravings. At the same time, repeated use causes the limbic and thalamocortical systems to increase their excitatory responses in an effort to rebalance mood, breathing, and heart rate.
When an individual abuses ketamine, the body develops this tolerance to protect itself. When ketamine is unavailable, the nervous system finds itself deeply out of balance.
In addition to the above, negative consequences of long-term ketamine abuse include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart damage
- Respiratory problems
- Kidney and bladder damage
- Memory loss
- Brain damage
- Dose tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms
Ketamine is a popularly abused dissociative anesthetic that can rapidly cause psychological dependence. While many people want to quit abusing this drug and reduce the risk to their health, not to mention finances and relationships, withdrawal symptoms make it difficult to quit cold turkey.
Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms
The most common ketamine withdrawal symptoms are primarily psychological. These range from mild to life-threatening and, in severe cases, can lead to violence as well as suicidal thoughts and acts.
The most common symptoms include:
- Inability to focus
- Loss of motor control
- Psychosis, delusions, and hallucinations
- Cognitive impairment
- Intense cravings
- Dysphoric mood
- Suicidal ideation
- Violent behavior and aggressiveness
Occasional physiological symptoms include fatigue, the shakes, rapid or irregular heart rate, sleep disturbances, and rapid breathing.
Underestimating the intensity of ketamine withdrawal and going about it without adequate support commonly results in relapse and failure. However, ketamine withdrawal can be life-threatening, causing people trying to quit to become a risk to themselves or others. Access to responsive therapeutic support that can anticipate an individual’s needs is critical to success during this period.
However, the good news is that ketamine doesn’t produce many well-documented physical withdrawal symptoms. Not only does this mean that quitting ketamine and seeking treatment is the best choice you can make for your health, but it means that doing so comes with few direct long-term health risks.
Ketamine Withdrawal Duration
Acute withdrawal symptoms typically start within 24 hours of your last dose and may continue for anything between three days to several weeks.
It is hard to predict exactly how long withdrawal symptoms will last, so it is important to keep up treatment for the full period specified by a treatment provider.
If you choose to undergo professional treatment to help manage the withdrawal process, you will be asked some questions during your evaluation to gain a better understanding of what kind of detox you may need.
Factors that influence the duration and intensity of your symptoms include:
- Physical condition
- Typical dose
- Duration of ketamine abuse
- Frequency of ketamine abuse
- Addiction to or use of other drugs
- Liver function
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
Ketamine Withdrawal Timeline
- 24 – 72 hours – Acute withdrawal symptoms arrive within the first three days after the last dose. Mild symptoms may resolve within this period.
- 72 hours – two weeks – In moderate to severe cases of ketamine addiction, symptoms can persist for up to two weeks before they start to taper off. This is particularly likely if you experienced greater instability during the peak period or experienced rare physical symptoms.
- Two weeks and beyond – Acute symptoms have resolved or tapered off. If you were a heavy user, strong cravings and psychological symptoms might persist in the long run. Therapeutic treatment during this period focuses on uncovering root causes, processing underlying trauma, and co-occurring mental health conditions that feed into chronic addiction.
Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment for Ketamine Users
Various medical procedures exist for people who want a safe, successful, and comfortable ketamine withdrawal.
Both intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization stays in a detox center can produce good results depending on the severity of your ketamine addiction.
Booking a private and honest consultation with a medical professional at our center is the best way to ensure you choose the best treatment setting for your case.
Effective treatment during the ketamine detox process aims to help those in recovery navigate withdrawal through the duration of their acute symptoms so that they can focus on the next stage of recovery with a clearer mind. The two objectives of this process are:
- To keep the client safe and healthy. This means managing physical and psychological side effects when necessary and, in many cases, ensuring an environment where both detox symptoms and treatment response can be closely monitored.
- To help the client resist cravings. The desire to use again peaks during withdrawal, and the ability to resist them during this critical stage can make or break an addiction treatment program. Relapsing not only restarts the recovery process but it puts users at greater risk of overdose.
Whether you choose inpatient, partial hospitalization, or an intensive outpatient program, detox needs to be undergone in a safe, calm, substance-free environment without external triggers.
At the moment, there aren’t any Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications that directly support the detox process for users stopping ketamine use.
However, treatment centers, such as our own, that offer medically-assisted detox and dual diagnosis can prescribe and support those who need access to medications that treat depression and alleviate psychological distress and other symptoms during recovery.
Supporting Yourself In Ketamine Withdrawal
As medical professionals, we can offer treatment that includes a therapeutic support system, supervision, and medical intervention during the challenging process of ketamine detox. At the same time, there are ways in which our clients can help themselves cope as they set out in recovery.
For example, you can reduce the discomfort of withdrawal by focusing on and giving space to your mental, emotional, and physical state while in detox treatment. This means taking time away from any unnecessary stressors and paying attention to yourself and your own experience.
During withdrawal, you will want to:
- Get enough rest.
- Maintain a substance-free environment and distance yourself from reminders of drug abuse, including associated people and places.
- Nourish yourself with balanced meals and stay hydrated.
- Move your body – even light exercise offers almost immediate benefits to our mental health.
- Open up to people you can trust.
- Meditate, write, reflect, and make sure that you have time and quiet to process the emotions that arise as the early fog clears.
- Distract yourself with fun activities.
We also ask that you follow ‘doctor’s orders.’ We may prescribe medication or therapy as part of your detox treatment plan, so make this a non-negotiable part of your routine.
At the same time, communication surrounding any side effects or psychological issues you are experiencing is necessary and encouraged. We have a lot to offer, and we are here to help if adjustments need to be made.
After Withdrawal: Further Treatment Options
Overcoming withdrawal and allowing ketamine to flush from your system is the first major milestone in recovery, but effective addiction treatment never ends there.
Rehab treatment options to follow up ketamine detox include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Complementary therapy (holistic therapies including meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation)
- Family therapy
- Interpersonal group therapy
- Experiential therapy (including art, adventure, drama, and play therapies)
- Skills development therapy
- Support groups
Contact Us Today
Ketamine is a psychological addiction, and freedom from it requires us to understand and treat the reasons why substance abuse began in the first place. Understanding the behaviors and thought processes reinforced by continuous use is also essential.
Ketamine addiction treatment can be long and involved, but restoring the mind-body connection and healing past drug use is always worth it.
If you have any unanswered questions about withdrawal or treatment at Tulip Hill, contact us today at 877-845-8192.