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Ketamine and mental health

3-minute read

Ketamine is a medicine used by doctors and vets for anaesthesia and pain relief. It is also used illegally for its hallucinogenic ‘high’ effect. Illegal users can develop serious mental health problems including depression, psychosis and flashbacks.

Ketamine comes as a white powder that can be swallowed, snorted or injected, or smoked with cannabis or tobacco. It’s also known as special K, K, ket, kitkat, super K and horse trank.

Ketamine effects

People who take ketamine can have hallucinations. It alters their perception of reality. They can see, hear, smell or taste things that don’t exist, or can perceive them differently to how they really are. They can also feel detached from their body, known as ‘falling into a K-hole’.

The drug takes effect within 30 seconds to 20 minutes, depending on how it is taken. The immediate effects of ketamine can last for about 45 to 90 minutes. In the day after taking the drug, people can lose their memories, feel clumsy and feel down.

Find out more about party drugs, including where to find help and support.

Mental health issues

Ketamine can cause a lot of mental health issues.

When using it, people can:

  • feel disorientated and drowsy
  • have hallucinations
  • feel numb
  • feel uncoordinated
  • become panicked, confused and anxious
  • have a near-death experience

Regular users can have:

  • flashbacks
  • mood and personality changes
  • depression
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • psychosis
  • psychological dependence

Regular users are also more likely to have social, work and financial problems.

Not sure what to do next?

If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues as a result of drug use, try healthdirect’s Symptom Checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Ketamine can be fatal if it’s used with alcohol, heroin or tranquillisers. Learn about the physical health effects of ketamine.

Kicking the habit

People who use ketamine regularly can become dependent on it.

Coming off it can last up to a week. People coming off ketamine:

  • have cravings
  • don’t want to eat
  • feel lethargic
  • have chills and sweats
  • have nightmares
  • feel anxious, restless and depressed
  • get the shakes
  • have a fast and irregular heartbeat

Find help on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14, DrugInfo on 1300 85 85 84 or the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 if you need to talk to someone about drugs.

Find out more about drug abuse generally.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2019

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