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Long term effects of ketamine

Ketamine is a powerful anaesthetic drug that is used for pain management in veterinary settings and occasionally in hospitals.

The long term effects of ketamine can be severe. When someone regularly abuses or is addicted to the drug, they are likely to see their physical and mental health deteriorate and their quality of life diminish as they focus their time and energy on getting, taking and recovering from ketamine.

Chronic ketamine use can lead to physical and psychological dependency

One of the long term effects of ketamine use is physical and psychological dependency, as its strong painkilling properties and anaesthetic effects make it a highly addictive substance.

When a person takes ketamine, they are likely to experience physical and psychological dissociation, as well as surges in dopamine and serotonin. These feelings can motivate some people to continue taking ketamine, using the drug to numb their thoughts, feelings and emotions.

A person who regularly uses the drug may also find that they build up a tolerance to ketamine over time, using higher doses or taking ketamine more frequently in order to achieve the level of dissociation that they desire. With frequent use, the body learns to function with the drug’s presence, leading to physical dependency where the person needs to take the drug in order to feel stable and ward off withdrawal symptoms.

Long term effects of ketamine on the body

When ketamine is ingested nasally, it can damage the nasal passageways and sinus cavities. The long-term effects of snorting ketamine include damage to the structure of the nose as well as an impaired sense of smell. When injected, it can damage veins, muscles, skin and internal organs. It can also lead to skin infections, infectious diseases or endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves.

Chronic ketamine abuse has also been known to damage people’s kidneys and liver. When high doses of the drug are taken for an extended amount of time, this can also lead to urinary tract and bladder problems. An increased heart rate, seizures, high blood pressure and respiratory issues may also be experienced.

The ketamine-induced deterioration to a person’s health can be severe, debilitating and even life-threatening. Ketamine abuse can stop a person from being able to function normally, and even lead to organ failure, heart attacks and death in some circumstances.

Long term effects of ketamine on the mind

Long-term ketamine use can lead to mood swings, and problems with memory and thought processes. Chronic abuse of the drug can also result in irreversible psychological impairment. A person may experience some of the following issues:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Shortened attention span
  • Mood swings

Ketamine abuse can lead to problems with flashbacks, and trigger psychosis and schizophrenia in people predisposed to such mental health conditions. Long term and frequent users may also experience dissociation, even when the effects of the drug have worn off.

Receiving treatment for ketamine addiction

When dealing with an addiction and the long term effects of ketamine abuse, it is important for a person to access specialist treatment so that they can withdraw from the drug safely and have the opportunity to learn ways to maintain their recovery overtime.

At Priory Group, free addiction assessments are available*. These give people the opportunity to visit the clinic and get to know the team. The assessments also allow our team to fully understand the person and their addiction so that the right treatment is provided. 

We are able to provide detoxification for ketamine addiction. With 24-hour care and support, our medically assisted process ensures people are able to withdraw in a safe and secure environment, where they are kept as comfortable as possible.

Following on from a detoxification, we recommend that a person undergoes a residential Addiction Treatment Programme. The Priory Group Addiction Treatment Programme includes group and one-to-one therapy sessions as well as seminars and workshops. These different elements work to help a person understand the reasons for their addiction and develop strategies for life going forward without ketamine. As part of our programme, people also work with our teams to produce comprehensive relapse prevention plans, and have access to personalised aftercare following on from their stay, to help them maintain their abstinence as they transition back to their day-to-day life.

We are also able to provide day and outpatient services, which can be an ideal step-down following on from a residential stay, as they offer a person support and guidance as they begin to rebuild their life away from addiction.

*Individuals with dual diagnosis may need to be assessed by a Consultant Psychiatrist which is a chargeable appointment.

Reviewed by Dr Patrick Mbaya (MB ChB, MSc, MD, FRCPsych, Cert. Psychopharmacology), Lead Consultant for Addictions at Priory Hospital Altrincham

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