Ketamine Use in Teens: Captivated by The Party Drug


Why Ketamine is fast becoming the drug of choice for Young Adults.

Ketamine is no newcomer to the party drug scene. It has been on offer in clubs, festivals, parties and music festivals for the past two or three decades. This relatively cheap and incredibly dangerous drug is rising in popularity among teenagers and young adults globally.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine Hydrochloride is a potent medication used in anaesthetic medicine. It has been available for prescribed medical uses since the 1970s. Used under controlled circumstances by licensed medical professionals, Ketamine is used for the induction of sedation and general anaesthesia in surgery and as a pain medication.

You will also find Ketamine being used by your local vet, as an effective Horse Tranquilliser and Anaesthetic agent for animals requiring medical procedures.

Why do teen’s use Ketamine?

rave scene and ketamine

Ketamine is used for it’s ‘dissociative’ qualities. Ketamine is a hallucinogen and causes euphoria. Teens like the feeling of separating physical sensations from thoughts, an effect of Ketamine use.

Ketamine amplifies sensory reactions. It is often used in parties, clubs and at raves, where it can intensify the sounds of music and experience of lights and atmosphere. The vivid colours, bright lights and calming sensations induce a trance-like feeling that is enticing for young party-goers. At higher levels of use, Ketamine produces an effect similar to LSD. Users describe floating and flying, although this can lead to young people attempting incredibly dangerous stunts.

Ketamine is relatively affordable and cheaper than many other street drugs. This undoubtedly increases both availability and popularity in young people.

Ketamine can create a dream-like sensation, leavening teenagers and young adults feeling relaxed and chilled. This is often described as a feeling of inner peace. This feeling most usually occurs close to overdose, often accompanied by feelings of nausea and confusion. Often, young people describe feelings of being detached from reality. Ketamine alters your ability to recall time and place.

Ketamine usually takes about 15-20 minutes to begin to have an effect after ingesting. The effects can last up to 2 hours.

Is Ketamine addictive or dangerous?

Ketamine causes both short term and potential long term effects in users. You do not have to be a regular user of Ketamine to run in danger. Teens may feel low in mood or even depressed for several days following infrequent use. In longer-term use, withdrawal can cause unceasing physical and psychological effects that may last from several days to several months.


Ketamine can cause havoc on the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to :

  • Fever
  • Jitters/trembling
  • Sickness and vomiting
  • Sweating and Dehydration
  • Core temperature rising leading to seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms
  • Dissociation
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • incontinence


  • Brain changes leading to developmental issues
  • Bladder capacity (Needing to pee more often)
  • Bladder emptying (increased risk of UTI’s)
  • Agitation
  • Panic attacks
  • memory gaps
  • depression
  • Liver damage
  • Psychosis


  • loss of body movement
  • impaired body sensation or numbness
  • Slowed permanent
  • Death



Ketamine is psychologically addictive. Young people who enjoy the sensations are likely to want to use more of the drug and more regularly. This will lead to an increase in tolerance or needing to use larger quantities in the hope of experiencing the same high.

Young people will continue to use despite increasing negative consequences. This often leads to addiction, permanent cognitive disability, memory loss, and can lead to permanent psychosis.

How popular is Ketamine use in teens around the world?

Ketamine is a drug used recreationally by people of all ages. However, the majority of users are under 30. As many as 75% of Ketamine users are 12-25 years old.

Research shows that young people who use Ketamine are usually from middle-high income families and have average to above-average education attainment. Young People who are interested in dance/club settings may be more familiar with Ketamine offered at parties, raves and festivals. Ketamine has been popular in the LGBTQIA community.

UK Ketamine use in teens

Public Health England reports that Ketamine use in Teenagers and Young Adults is rising sharply as Police seizures of Ketamine increased by 30% in the UK in 2019. This represents the third year on year increase of Ketamine in adolescents in the UK.

That’s approx 141,000 more young people using Ketamine in the UK than during the previous year. The highest increase was shown in the 16-24-year-old age group.

In the UK a gram of Ketamine costs approximately $40.

Ketamine is a Class B Drug. It is illegal to have for your own use, to sell or to share with others.

Asia Ketamine use in teens

Since the 1990’s Ketamine Use in teenagers and Young Adults has been a cause for concern in South East Asia.

Social or recreational use amongst young people across the SE Asian region is a growing public health concern, with rapidly escalating number in both boys and girls.
Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore have reported escalating issues with Ketamine use, recorded in toxicology reports in young adults. Risks increase further as the heavy penalties for illegal drug use in the region are considered. MDMA and marijuana make up the list of the top three substances in the SE Asian region.
Ketamine is the second most common drug of choice in drug users of all ages, with an average age of onset of 12-15.

Ketamine costs approx HK$100 for three hits. The low cost in comparison to other drugs, like Cocaine, makes Ketamine more appealing to adolescents.

A vast quantity of Ketamine is produced in Asia, particularly India and China. Ketamine continues to be an emerging trend in Asia. Ketamine users represent almost 10% of all drug users in S E Asia. Those under 21 make up the largest user group.

(Recreational Drug Use in Asia Pacific Region: Improvement in our understanding of the problem through the UNODC. P.I Dargan and DM Wood)

USA Ketamine use in teens

Ketamine is classified under The Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule III Drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2015 that approximately 1.5% of 12th Graders would regularly use Ketamine.


Ketamine has several well-known street names. Special-K, Cat-Valium, Kitty-Kat, Kit-Kat. Super C, Jet, Super Acid, Green, K, Wonk, Donkey Dust.

As a licensed medicine Ketamine can be found under registered brand names: meta set, Ketalar, Ketanest.


Users often describe an out of body feeling or near-death experience when the drug is ingested at high doses. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘K-Hole”. Trips can last up to two hours.


Not to be confused with the famous Designer and clothing brand. Calvin-Klein refers to a mixture of Cocaine and Ketamine. It produces a similar effect to MDMA. Thee mixture of the stimulant properties of Cocaine and anaesthetic properties of Ketamine can be lethal.


The highly dangerous and incredibly potent combination of Ketamine and MDMA. Mixing the two drugs or purchasing those premixed has uncertain and unpredictable consequences. The dangers of combining and mixing can be fatal.

Is Ketamine a ‘Date Rape’ drug?

Ketamine has received much attention as a drug that has been used in situations where sexual assault and rape has taken place. Ketamine is listed as one of the three most common drugs found to have been used in sexual assault victims.

Ketamine is included in the Act of Law known as the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention Act of 1996. This Act was introduced to facilitate tougher penalties and custodial sentences for offenders found guilty of using the drug in order to facilitate sexual acts, assault and other violent crimes.

Ketamine has been used as a date rape drug due to the dream induced state that he drug creates. This can make it very difficult to move some or all parts of the victim’s body.

Ketamine can be detected in the body for several days after the last use. If you believe that Ketamine may have been given to you without your consent you should proceed to the nearest Emergency Department.

What does Ketamine look like?

Ketamine is available in both powder and liquid form. Occasionally it can be found in tablet form.

As a white or (sometimes) brown powder, it can and is regularly snorted or inhaled by young users.

How is Ketamine used?

Ketamine can be mixed with water and injected.

  • Ketamine is often snorted/inhaled.
  • Ketamine in clear liquid form can be placed in drinks.
  • Ketamine can be added to cigarettes or dipped.
  • Ketamine is sometimes used with other drugs.

Ketamine Overdose

Overdose can cause body numbness, inability to move and loss of consciousness. Ketamine overdose can cause a slowness in breathing, cause breathing to stop and death.

Mixing Ketamine with Alcohol, Benzodiazepines, or Opiates can lead to collapse.

Effects of Ketamine on adolescent brain development

brain development teens and drugs

Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Ketamine can serious disrupt normal brain development. In long term use, the changes can be irreversible.

Damage can occur in the areas of the brain responsible for working memory, verbal learning, response inhibition and cause impaired executive functioning. Studies indicate structural and functional brain changes can be seen in the imaging of adolescents diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder.

Withdrawal from Ketamine

Withdrawal from Ketamine in medium to long term users can be unpleasant. Advice should be taken from a medical practitioner with experience in managing withdrawal symptoms in Teenagers and Young Adults. Dr Rasyid Sulaiman, Medical Director & Consultant Psychiatrist at The Wave Addictions Programs for Young Adults, advises parents and young people against detoxing at home. Dr Rasyid describes how both the physical and emotional aspects of withdrawal can be challenging for young people.

The majority of Ketamine withdrawal symptoms are psychological. However, this can very much depend on whether the Ketamine was used in combination with any other drugs or alcohol.

Common withdrawal symptoms

  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Anxiety
  • Faster than usual breathing
  • Delayed or uncoordinated motor skills
  • Hearing Loss
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

Diagnosing substance use disorder

Dr Rasyid explains that ‘diagnosing Substance Use Disorder in teenagers or Young People should take account of the eleven different criteria’. He advises that concerned families, young people, or parents should contact a specialist in Adolescent Psychiatry for Diagnosis.

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Association, 2013) lists the following eleven criteria. Substance Use Disorder can be identified as Mild (indicating two or three areas identified), Moderate (Four or five symptoms identified) or Severe (Six or more symptoms identified).

Substance use disorder made simple

We have simplified the criteria. Many parents and Teens will identify with the following:

  1. Using more of a substance or using for longer periods than intended
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop but not being able to
  3. Neglecting responsibilities and relationships (School, Home, Family, Friends)
  4. Giving up activities that they used to enjoy (Sports, Hobbies, Friends)
  5. Inability to complete tasks at home, at school or at work
  6. Continued use despite increasing problems (trouble at home, school or work)
  7. Using in an increasingly risky manner or situations
  8. Needing more of the substance to get the same effect (tolerance)
  9. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the substance is not used
  10. Cravings for the substance between uses
  11. Physical or Psychological problems resulting from use.

Ketamine use in Teenagers and Young Adults can very quickly become problematic. Regular Use or Use combined with other drugs or alcohol, will almost certainly require residential treatment.

The Addiction Programs at The Wave specialise in supporting and caring for young people with Addiction issues. With facilities to safely detox and ongoing medical support young people can find a sense of community in a supportive environment to recover The Wave Medical Team are available to answer your questions on Ketamine or other Substances

Dr Rasyid Suliaman is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director of The Wave Kuala Lumpur. He leads a team of clinical and medical specialists in the care of Teenagers, and Young Adults with additional Mental Health needs.

International families at The Wave are encouraged to contact Fiona Yassin, Clinical Services Director. Fiona is an Accredited Clinical Supervisor (UNCG). Specialising in the treatment of families and young people with complex needs, including addictions, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder. Fiona is EMDR, CBT-e, RO-DBT, FREED, and TF-CBT trained and focuses on Trauma-Focused Care for Families.

The Wave is an organisational member of The Association of Child Protection Professionals.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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