Ketamine Symptoms, Signs and Side Effects

Last Updated: May 30, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Ketamine is a strong drug used for anesthesia or pain relief. It has been shown to be effective for medical use, but it also has some side effects that make it a popular drug to misuse and abuse.

Ketamine has side effects that include hallucinations and dissociation, and some people use ketamine to get high. Because of these effects, ketamine has become and increasingly popular party drug, often known as “Special K” or “Vitamin K.”

Despite its medical uses, ketamine can be dangerous when it is used recreationally. Taking ketamine can have serious side effects. People using it regularly may begin to show symptoms of addiction.

Symptoms of Ketamine Abuse

When someone has taken ketamine, they may experience certain side effects like dilated pupils, rapid eye movements, hallucinations or seeming disoriented.

If someone is abusing ketamine on a regular basis, they may begin to show signs of drug-seeking behavior or appear aggravated if they can’t access the drug. Ketamine abuse also increases the risk of serious drug interactions or overdose. The consequences of ketamine abuse can be serious and long-lasting.

Ketamine Side Effects

Ketamine can have physical and mental side effects during and after the use of the drug. Ketamine is known as a “dissociative anesthesia” drug, which can make people using the drug feel like they are not in control or not present.

Ketamine use can also have adverse effects which can cause serious and long-term health problems. Although the high produced by ketamine is fairly short, ketamine drug effects can impact long-term health.

Short-Term Effects

When used recreationally, ketamine is often injected and the effects of the drug can hit quickly and last a relatively short time, around 30 to 60 minutes. The short-term side effects of ketamine include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Distorted vision or hearing
  • Agitation
  • Confusion

Ketamine can also temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure. These effects often subside as the drug metabolizes and wears off. In some cases, side effects can be more severe or people using the drug can experience a negative reaction.

Long-Term Effects

The intoxicating effects of ketamine can wear off quickly, but there are long-term side effects of ketamine use that can last years. Long-term effects can include inflammation, urinary problems, damage to the liver and cognitive impairments.

Ketamine Drug Interactions

Ketamine is dangerous when used recreationally, but the risks can be compounded when it is combined with other drugs or alcohol. Ketamine can have dangerous drug interactions with other substances used for medical or recreational purposes.

For example, using ketamine with drugs like opioids or benzodiazepine can decrease the effectiveness of ketamine or cause adverse effects. When used recreationally, ketamine can also have dangerous drug interactions with other illicit substances like cocaine, MDMA or alcohol. Ketamine interactions with alcohol can worsen intoxication and impairment and increase the risk of harm if taken together.

Taking Ketamine While Pregnant

Ketamine use for medical anesthesia or pain relief is not usually recommended during pregnancy. Using ketamine while pregnant can increase the risk of growth or developmental problems for the fetus.

Similarly, using ketamine recreationally during pregnancy is extremely dangerous for the mother and child. The effects of ketamine on pregnancy can be serious and can be life-threatening for the fetus. Exposure to ketamine in utero has been shown to be neurotoxic and can lead to brain damage or developmental problems. As an illicit substance, there is no regulation over the formation of recreational ketamine, so the substance may contain other harmful substances.

Signs Of Ketamine Overdose

People using ketamine recreationally may not know the exact dose they are taking, so the risk of experiencing overdose is high. An overdose is a serious medical event that requires urgent medical attention.

The major signs and symptoms of a ketamine overdose are extremely slow breathing as well as loss of consciousness. Someone who has taken too much ketamine may be unable to respond or they may be confused. If a ketamine overdose is suspected, medical help should be contacted right away.

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    Drug Enforcement Administration. “Ketamine.” 2017. Accessed September 6, 2019.

    National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Ketamine.” “PubChem Database. Accessed September 6, 2019.

    Cheung, Hoi Man; David Tai Wai Yew. “Effects of Perinatal Exposure to Ketamine on the Developing Brain.” Frontiers in Neuroscience, February 2019. Accessed September 7, 2019.