Ketamine is a drug that’s gained popularity in recent memory as a means of managing pain, depression, and other conditions that affect individuals. The drug became known for its use in the nightclub and the rave scene, which warranted significant concern because of its intense effects. In the hands of medical professionals, ketamine treatment is a safe and effective means of managing these conditions. However, when abused, ketamine tolerance and dependence can occur, which can lead to ketamine addiction. In this blog, we’ll discuss how ketamine use has become a widespread problem and how to manage ketamine tolerance.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine, also referred to as special K, is a medication that doctors use as an anesthetic to induce a loss of consciousness. The most common effects include a reduced sensation of pain and sedation. It’s considered a Schedule III non-narcotic drug that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for use only as a general anesthetic. Although doctors sometimes prescribe it for off-label uses like depression, it’s not approved for this treatment. Off-label refers to the use of drugs for conditions the FDA has not approved.

The drug is commonly abused for its hallucinogenic properties. It has the potential to sedate, incapacitate, and cause short-term memory loss. For this reason, it can also be used as a date rape drug. Despite ketamine being safe to use in controlled medical practice, it becomes dangerous when used for recreational purposes.

Although recreational ketamine use and availability have increased dramatically in the past few years, it’s still considered an uncommon drug, only used by less than one percent of people in the United States, according to The American Journal of Public Health. Therapeutic use of the drug has become more mainstream, and below, we’ll discuss the most common therapeutic uses for ketamine.

Therapeutic Uses for Ketamine

Although ketamine is only approved for general anesthesia, there are other off-label uses, which have become more mainstream as of late. Below, we’ll discuss some of these.

General Anesthesia

Doctors administer ketamine to induce general anesthesia alone or in conjunction with other general anesthetics, such as nitrous oxide. It’s commonly used in emergency departments to produce short-term sedation for the following reasons:

  • Treating joint dislocations
  • Reducing fractures
  • Repairing wounds in uncooperative people

Pain Management

Low doses of ketamine are administered that do not cause dissociation to relieve severe pain in the following conditions:

  • Fractures
  • Trauma
  • Arm or leg pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Low back pain

Status Epilepticus

Status epilepticus is when someone has a seizure that persists for more than five minutes or when they have more than one seizure in a five-minute period. They do not return to a normal level of consciousness between episodes. It’s a medical emergency that can lead to permanent brain damage or, in some cases, death.

Refractory status epilepticus (RFE) is a form of the condition that doesn’t respond to typical anti seizure drugs. It’s a severe disease that can also be fatal. However, a 2015 study found that ketamine is an effective treatment for the condition.


Ketamine is an effective treatment to manage depression, especially when others don’t respond well to other treatments. However, results are limited at this point, and medical professionals mention that you must consider the risks of the drug before using it. The inappropriate use of ketamine is a global health issue because of its hallucinogenic side effects. With this in mind, doctors should try antidepressants before moving on to ketamine.


Although the use of ketamine for anxiety is less common, it’s been shown to help those with social anxiety disorder (SAD). In the study, 18 participants with SAD were tested, and the results showed it could effectively manage the symptoms. However, this is far too small of a sample size to determine its impact on the general population. At this point, you should consider alternative treatments.

What Are the Side Effects of Ketamine?

The effects of ketamine are often felt within minutes of use. When used illicitly, the effects are unpredictable and will vary in severity based on how much ketamine was consumed and how it was taken. The acute effects could persist for several hours, or in some cases, several days. However, in low doses, you can expect the following:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
  • Confusion, disorientation, or loss of motor coordination
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, or breathing
  • Changes in sensory perceptions, such as auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Feeling detached from yourself, your environment, or your surroundings

The long-term effects of ketamine can be tolerance, which is then followed by the development of a substance use disorder. When this occurs, withdrawal can happen when you lower your dose or stop altogether. Ketamine withdrawal symptoms are characterized by depression, cravings for the drug, and excessive sleepiness.

There are also neurological risks of long-term ketamine use. Large doses of the drug over a prolonged period are associated with specific brain structure and function. Memory impairments and declines in executive functioning can also occur, as well as cognitive and emotional changes.

Ketamine Tolerance

When it comes to drug tolerance, ketamine users are also at risk of becoming tolerant of its effects. Ketamine tolerance occurs when you take the drug recreationally, which is why therapeutic doses must be controlled by medical experts. Drug tolerance is a person’s diminished response to a drug like ketamine, which occurs when the drug is taken repeatedly in higher doses or more often than prescribed, and your body adapts to its presence. For example, if one milligram of a drug produced euphoria when you begin taking the drug, in a week or two, that same dose would only be enough to make you feel normal. If you start taking two milligrams to feel the same effects, it’s a sign you’ve developed a ketamine tolerance.

When you become tolerant of a substance and start taking more of it to achieve your desired effects, it can lead to dependence, which is when your body cannot function regularly without ketamine. If you don’t take your normal dose or take less, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. Many people report using drugs like ketamine solely to avoid withdrawal. If you continue taking ketamine, you’re at risk of developing a full-blown ketamine addiction, which can be dangerous. Although it’s used to manage various conditions, doctors control the dose they give you to avoid this from happening.

How to Lower Ketamine Tolerance

Unfortunately, there is no specific way to treat drug tolerance. The only way to avoid this from happening is to not use the drug in the first place. The medical community still struggles with why drug tolerance occurs and why it develops in some and not others. It can occur with any drug and can be dangerous since it leads to addiction. If you’re looking for a way to lower your ketamine tolerance, your best bet is to speak to a doctor, but they will likely tell you that you must stop using ketamine.

With other drugs, doctors would typically have you wean off the substance. For example, they’d have you take smaller doses less often or put you on another medication. Since ketamine withdrawal isn’t considered dangerous, this might be your best bet. However, the issue with ketamine is that it’s harder to measure your dose if you’re snorting the drug. Your best chance to lower ketamine tolerance is to stop using the drug altogether. If you’ve become addicted to ketamine, treatment is the safest way to do this.

Overcoming ketamine addiction is not easy. The first step of the process is to check in to a medical detox program. Medical experts will administer medication that alleviates your worst symptoms and monitor your progress during this time. Although ketamine withdrawal isn’t considered life-threatening, especially when compared to alcohol or benzodiazepines, the process itself is often unpredictable. While it can be a breeze for one person, it could end up dangerous for you, which is why you must place yourself under the care of medical professionals.

Many people abuse drugs like ketamine to manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other conditions doctors prescribe for off-label. During a stay in inpatient or outpatient treatment, doctors will get to the root of your problem and will administer less addictive drugs to help you cope with your medical disorder. Seek help right away before this problem grows entirely out of control.

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