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The Dangers Of Snorting Ketamine (Insufflation)

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

April 19, 2019

Snorting ketamine can pose several dangers to your health and increase the risk for addiction. Treatment for ketamine insufflation (snorting) can help people who have experienced mental and physical health consequences as a result of their addiction.

When used recreationally, the ‘club drug’ ketamine may be snorted to achieve rapid effects of euphoria and a dream-like state. Abusing ketamine by means of insufflation (snorting) can have harmful effects on the body and brain, including kidney damage and drug poisoning. Chronic insufflation of ketamine may also lead to dependence and addiction.

How Is Ketamine Used?

Within clinical and veterinary settings, ketamine may be used as a surgical anesthetic for humans and animals. When used for these purposes, ketamine is injected in the form of a liquid.

Ketamine is only legal for clinical use, but it is also manufactured illegally and sold by dealers for recreational use. Illicit ketamine may be sold in the form of a liquid, tablet, or powder. Some common names for ketamine sold on the street include ‘Special K’, kit kat, and Super K.

The most common ways ketamine is used are insufflation (snorting) and intramuscular injection. Both of these methods can produce more rapid effects than when the drug is taken orally in its tablet form. For this same reason, they can also be dangerous.

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Effects Of Ketamine On The Brain

Ketamine acts on a certain receptor in the brain known as the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) glutamate receptor.

Glutamate produces the anesthetic effects of ketamine and plays a role in the following:

Ketamine can also have an impact on dopamine and serotonin levels, which are brain chemicals responsible for controlling feelings of pleasure, mood, and perception. This accounts for the euphoric state, or ‘rush’, experienced by those who use ketamine.

Dangers Of Ketamine Insufflation

Ketamine abuse can pose several health risks that include damage to organ function, memory loss, and other cognitive problems. Snorting ketamine can even further increase these risks and pose additional dangers specific to this method of use.

Damage To The Nose

Snorting ketamine through the nose can have a negative impact on nasal passageways and the sinus cavities, causing inflammation and irritation. In the short term, this can cause symptoms of nosebleeds, difficulty swallowing, and a hoarse voice.

Long-term ketamine insufflation can have additional harm on the structure and function of your nose. It may cause you to develop a perforated septum (holes in the nasal membrane dividing the nostrils) or reduce your sense of smell.

Kidney And Liver Damage

Chronic abuse of ketamine has been linked to reduced kidney and liver function. This can lead to chronic and sometimes severe stomach pain, sometimes referred to as ‘K cramps’.

Damage to these organs is most often seen in cases where someone has been taking high doses of ketamine over an extended period of time. The kidneys may also experience signs of toxicity with overdose.

Urinary Tract And Bladder Problems

Ketamine abuse can lead to problems that involve the bladder and urinary tract. Symptoms of ketamine-related bladder problems include painful urination, increased frequency and urgency, and blood in urine. Some effects of this damage can be severe and debilitating, making it difficult for people to function normally in their daily lives.

The frequency of ketamine use, the amount snorted, and the length of time a person has abused ketamine are factors that play a role in the likelihood of experiencing severe damage.

Drug Tolerance

Over time, repeated use of ketamine can lead to a person experiencing decreased effects. This is known as developing a tolerance, or ketamine dependence. When someone has developed a tolerance, they may begin to use more of the drug, or use it more frequently, in order to experience the same effects.

Snorting ketamine can even further increase the risk for tolerance, and cause one to develop a tolerance much quicker due to the rapid onset of its effects. Bingeing on ketamine by snorting large or multiple doses can similarly increase this risk.

If you have developed ketamine dependence, there is a chance you will experience certain withdrawal symptoms once the effects of the drug have worn off. These can include strong cravings for ketamine, sweating, or headaches.

Side Effects Of Ketamine

Ketamine is known to have effects on the brain and body comparable to those that occur with use of LSD and ecstasy (MDMA).

The dream-like and disconnected effects that can occur with ketamine may begin between five and 30 minutes after taking the drug, depending on how it is used:

  • Oral: between 5 and 30 minutes
  • Injection: between one and five minutes
  • Snorting: between 5 and 15 minutes

The hallucinogenic effects of ketamine tend to last between 30 and 60 minutes before beginning to wear off. However, some other effects on judgment, coordination, and the senses may continue for up to 24 hours after use.

Side effects of ketamine include:

  • decreased coordination
  • distorted perception (sight and sound)
  • confusion
  • difficulty with balance
  • troubles with vision
  • increased recklessness
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • anxiety
  • depression

Additional side effects can also occur with large or multiple doses of ketamine. These powerful effects can be distressing, and may pose long-term health risks.

Effects of large doses of ketamine include:

  • ‘K-hole’ (feeling completely detached from one’s body, or near-death)
  • memory loss
  • hallucinations
  • increased heart rate
  • muscle twitches
  • respiratory depression
  • seizures
  • overdose

Can Snorting Ketamine Lead To An Overdose?

Snorting excessive amounts of ketamine can lead to a drug overdose. Insufflation has an increased risk of ketamine overdose because the drug is reaching the brain faster. When you snort large amounts of ketamine, this can overwhelm the brain and disrupt certain bodily processes.

The primary concerns with ketamine overdose are respiratory depression and cardiac issues. In some rare cases, ketamine overdose can be fatal. If a person is showing symptoms of ketamine overdose, emergency services should be contacted immediately.

Symptoms of ketamine overdose can include:

  • slowed or shallow breathing
  • anxiety
  • heart palpitations
  • rapid heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • high blood pressure

Ketamine insufflation may be more likely to lead to overdose when mixed with use of other substances, including sedatives and alcohol. Combining ketamine with depressants can increase the risk for symptoms like slowed breathing, which in some cases may result in respiratory failure.

Treatment For Ketamine Abuse And Addiction

Snorting ketamine can lead to a pattern of ketamine abuse, and increase your risk for becoming addicted. Ketamine addiction can involve a physical dependence on the drug, as well as psychological dependence. People who snort ketamine may have a difficult time being able to stop their ketamine use on their own, especially if their body has adapted to its presence in their system.

Ketamine addiction can pose long-term harm to your mental and physical health, making it more difficult to function in your daily life. You may find it harder to focus on work or other life responsibilities and find yourself neglecting them in order to continue using the drug.

The first step for treating ketamine addiction is entering an inpatient drug rehab program, where you can safely detox from the drug under the supervision of medical specialists.

Additional treatment within a drug rehab program may also be recommended to help treat the psychological aspects of your addiction. Treatments that may be effective for ketamine addiction include behavioral therapy and substance abuse support groups.

If you or a loved one are struggling with ketamine abuse, contact us today to learn more about treatment options.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Club Drugs (PDF), Hallucinogens

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