Ketamine, categorized as a “dissociative anesthetic,”1 is used in powdered or liquid form as an anesthetic, usually on animals. It can be injected, consumed in drinks, snorted, or added to joints or cigarettes. Ketamine was placed on the list of controlled substances in the US in 1999.

Short- and long-term effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, numbness, depression, amnesia, hallucinations and potentially fatal respiratory problems. Ketamine users can also develop cravings for the drug. At high doses, users experience an effect referred to as “K-Hole,” an “out of body” or “near-death” experience.

Due to the detached, dreamlike state it creates, where the user finds it difficult to move, ketamine has been used as a “date-rape” drug.

What do you know about ketamine? Very little if you’re like me – until I was accosted in a friend’s kitchen by 19 year old Hayley de Beers, an illustration student at the Arts Institute in Bournemouth, and force-fed some facts.

Ketamine, known as K, is an anaesthetic drug used on animals and people. It’s a relatively new street drug, increasingly popular on the club scene, which is snorted as a white powder or taken as a tablet. “Young people take it to distract themselves from difficulties or boredom,” Hayley told me.

“Everything seems much less serious ? like being stoned but a thousand times more so. People get very wobbly on a small dose; if they take more, they get progressively slower and more comatose. There’s complete emptiness in their eyes. Finally, if they take enough, they pass out.” In January this year, the government agreed that ketamine, which is also a hallucinogenic, would for the first time be made a controlled drug.

A Home Office spokesman told me that use is increasing and “excessive doses can increase the risk of respiratory problems and heart failure, it is also extremely dangerous mixed with alcohol?and regular users can become psychologically dependent” but despite this, ketamine has been categorised as Class C, the least harmful, along with cannabis and benzodiazepine tranquillisers like valium, (heroin and cocaine are Class A).

This outrages Hayley, who used ketamine herself and says the research she has read (from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and other experts) underplays the risks: “K is potentially very dangerous. It’s destroyed the lives of several people I know.” The official line is that it’s mainly used by clubbers to come down after taking other drugs, such as ecstasy, cocaine or amphetamines. But Hayley says her peers are more likely to take it alone or with alcohol. Her big fear is that it’s a new date rape drug: “if you drink and do K, you’re pretty much taking your life in your hands: anyone can do anything with you.”

She tells me other horror stories linked to ketamine: a boy who, at 18, regularly took about a gram and a half a day and developed a brain abscess: “he was in hospital for three years, with all his bodily functions machine-operated”. A girl who started “peeing pure blood” but wouldn’t tell the doctors what she was using. A fatal car accident caused by the driver’s slowed reactions.

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