Many people who use the club drug ketamine may risk abdominal pain, a leaky bladder and other urinary tract symptoms, a new study suggests.
In medicine, ketamine is used as an anesthetic. In clubs, where it’s better known as “special K,” ketamine is snorted, or sometimes injected; users say the drug creates feelings of euphoria and being “out of your body.”
Ketamine abuse is on the rise in many countries. Repeated use has been linked to mental problems such as hallucinations and impaired memory, thinking and concentration. It can also cause high blood pressure.
The side effects don’t stop there, however. Among the others are urinary tract symptoms, like pain in the lower belly, painful urination, blood in the urine and bladder-control problems.
But until now, there has been no estimate of how common those side effects may be.
In the new study, UK researchers found that of 1,285 young adults who said they’d abused ketamine in the past year, 27 percent had developed urinary tract symptoms.
And the heavier the dose or more frequent the use, the more likely people were to have symptoms.
The findings give an idea of the prevalence of urinary symptoms among ketamine abusers, said Angela M. Cottrell, a researcher at the Bristol Urological Institute in the UK who worked on the study.
Ketamine is a drug that has traditionally been used as an anesthetic in veterinary medicine. It has also been used in pediatric medicine for this purpose. Not only can it relieve pain, but Special K has powerful hallucinogenic qualities. The ketamine available on the street and in clubs are most likely procured by theft from a veterinary hospital or clinic.
When ketamine is used as an anesthetic, it is injected or given intravenously. It can be converted into a powder by allowing the liquid in the injectable form to evaporate. The white substance is usually snorted, but some users choose to inject it.
When ketamine is injected, the user starts to feel its effects within a few seconds. Snorting the drug means there is a lag time of between 5-15 minutes before the drug starts to take effect.
Ketamine is not physically addictive, but, psychologically, thanks to its desirable effects and short duration, it can be extremely habit forming. There is now clear evidence of tolerance and dependence.
It should not be taken if you’re anything other than emotionally stable and robust. Many regular drug users are completely surprised by the “first addictive psychedelic they have ever encountered”. Psychedelic drug use tends to magnify and increase the emotional state of the user.
Taking these kinds of drugs when you are feeling happy and content means you are more likely to have a good trip. The other side of the equation is that if you use ketamine or one of the other drugs that causes hallucinations when you are feeling anxious or depressed, its effect can magnify those feelings. A bad trip is similar to a nightmare, in that you may see disturbing or even frightening things. The difference is that unlike a nightmare, you will need to ride it out to the end of the trip – however long it takes.
It’s not clear how the rate compares with that among young people in general, Cottrell told Reuters Health by email.
What is ketamine called?
The most common names for ketamine are K, special K, cat valium, and vitamin K.
Street Terms for Ketamine
Special la coke
But, she and her colleagues say, the findings confirm an association between ketamine and urinary problems.
“The take-home message is that regular ketamine use can lead to severe urinary symptoms,” Cottrell said.
CLUB MUSIC MAGAZINE SURVEY
The findings, reported in the British Journal of Urology International, are based on an online survey promoted by a UK club-music magazine called MixMag.
Of 3,806 young people who responded, half said they’d ever used ketamine, and 1,285 – or a third of the whole group – said they’d used it in the last year.
The researchers found that of all past-year users, 17 percent had symptoms of dependence on ketamine – like wanting, but failing, to cut down on the drug. Not surprisingly, they tended to take the drug in bigger doses, and more often, than other users.
In general, Cottrell’s team found, the odds of urinary problems and abdominal pain went up as people’s ketamine doses climbed, and with more-frequent use.
Those symptoms often seem to go away once the ketamine abuse stops.
In this study, 251 survey respondents described their experience. Half said they’d stopped using the drug and their symptoms had improved. Another 43 percent still had urinary problems, but were also still abusing ketamine.
Then there was the 4 percent who said their urinary problems were getting worse even though they were off ketamine.
What are the risks?
Ketamine causes users to have distorted perceptions of sight and sound and to feel disconnected and out of control. Use of the drug can impair an individual’s senses, judgment, and coordination for up to 24 hours after the drug is taken even though the drug’s hallucinogenic effects usually last for only 45 to 90 minutes.
Use of ketamine has been associated with serious problems- both mental and physical. Ketamine can cause depression, delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function, high blood pressure, and potentially fatal respiratory problems.
In addition to the risks associated with ketamine itself, individuals who use the drug may put themselves at risk of sexual assault. Sexual predators reportedly have used ketamine to incapacitate their intended victims- either by lacing unsuspecting victims’ drinks with the drug or by offering ketamine to victims who consume the drug without understanding the effects it will produce.
“There may be a stage where irreversible damage may occur,” Cottrell said. “However, little is known about this.”
SOURCE: BJU International, online March 14, 2012
The prevalence and natural history of urinary symptoms among recreational ketamine users
– In all, 3806 surveys were completed, of which 1285 (33.8%) participants reported ketamine use within the last year.
– Of the ketamine users, 17% were found to be dependent on the drug; 26.6% (340) of recent ketamine users reported experiencing urinary symptoms.
– Urinary symptoms were significantly related to both dose of ketamine used and frequency of ketamine use.
– Of 251 users reporting their experience of symptoms over time in relationship to their use of ketamine, 51% reported improvement in urinary symptoms upon cessation of use with only eight (3.8%) reporting deterioration after stopping use.
– Urinary tract symptoms are reported in over a quarter of regular ketamine users.
– A dose and frequency response relationship has been shown between ketamine use and urinary symptoms.
– Both users and primary-care providers need to be educated about urinary symptoms that may arise in ketamine users. A multi-disciplinary approach promoting harm reduction, cessation and early referral is needed to manage individuals with ketamine-associated urinary tract symptoms to avoid progression to severe and irreversible urological pathologies.
Adam R. Winstock,
David A. Gillatt,
Angela M. Cottrell
Article first published online: 14 MAR 2012