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Is Ketamine Legal?

ketamine powder on a glass dish next to a cut plastic straw  

Teen substance abuse patterns are changing as new pharmaceutical drugs become popular. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug that is used by approximately 1% to 2% of teenagers in the United States. Ketamine is regulated and is unavailable without a prescription. Teenagers may obtain ketamine illegally from people who steal it from hospitals, medical offices or veterinary clinics.

Ketamine is a structural analog of the illicit, recreational drug phencyclidine (PCP). The effects of ketamine, when used recreationally, are dose-dependent. Low doses lead to euphoria and dissociative effects, while high doses cause hallucinations and can immobilize the person who took it.

Legal Uses of Ketamine

Ketamine is most often known as a veterinary anesthetic but it is a very valuable drug in human medicine and has been included in the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicine List since 1985. Ketamine is widely used as an anesthetic in humans and has been successfully used to treat pain, inflammation, mild to moderate asthma attacks and depression.

Ketamine as an Anesthetic

Ketamine may be the most widely used anesthetic in the world. It is safer than other anesthetics because it does not depress breathing or blood pressure, it is easy to administer and is safe for patients who are in shock due to blood loss or sepsis. Ketamine anesthesia is safe for pediatric and adult populations. Furthermore, ketamine overdoses are incredibly rare in medically-supervised circumstances and are not associated with lethality.

Ketamine for Depression

Depression affects over 300 million people worldwide. Ketamine treatment for depression has proven to be an incredibly valuable option for people who are struggling with treatment-resistant depression (clinical depression that has not responded to two or more types of standard antidepressants). Medical administration of intravenous ketamine in patients with treatment-resistant depression has shown to provide statistically significant improvement in these people. In addition to intravenous administration, ketamine nasal spray for depression is a promising therapeutic avenue that was recently approved by the FDA. Ketamine has shown substantial promise as a depression medication for teens as well as adults.

A great deal of research is ongoing, including determining who will respond favorably to ketamine and the mechanisms of how ketamine is able to improve treatment-resistant depression. However, ketamine has become one of the most promising treatment methods for people struggling with severe depression.

Illegal Uses of Ketamine

In the United States, ketamine has become a popular, illicit drug that is used recreationally, especially among young people. As a “club drug,” ketamine has gained popularity for its hallucinogenic and dissociative effects.

Recreational ketamine use is not legal and it is associated with dangers and a serious risk of developing dependence and addiction. Due to the relatively new use of ketamine as a recreational drug, medical and scientific research into the short- and long-term effects of ketamine abuse in humans is still an area of active research, but animal studies have substantially underscored the dangers associated with illicit use of ketamine. In these studies, ketamine was shown to inhibit proper learning and memory, with worsening outcomes in mice that were given ketamine for 6-months compared to 3-months.

Ketamine abuse among teenagers poses particular risks. The ketamine high is associated with very pleasurable feelings and euphoria, but ketamine addiction can occur quickly and be very challenging to overcome. Drugs that can lead to addiction (including ketamine) can hijack normal brain signaling pathways in such a way that healthy development is impaired.

Teen addiction has been shown to cause substantial structural and functional changes in the brain that persist throughout adulthood. While data specific to teenage abuse of ketamine remains preliminary, there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that chronic ketamine use causes long-term cognitive damage.

Finding Help for Ketamine Abuse

Teenagers are at particular risk for long-term consequences associated with drug abuse. In addition to cognitive impairment, psychosis, and psychological cravings, ketamine abuse has been shown to cause ulcerative cystitis, kidney and gastrointestinal dysfunction that can cause long-term damage. In spite of the incredible value that ketamine has when used medically, recreational ketamine use is illegal and poses very serious short- and long-term risks.

If you are concerned that your teenager is using ketamine or other recreational drugs, Next Generation Village can help. We provide evidence-based ketamine addiction treatment for teens ages 13 to 17. Our comprehensive rehab programs are guided by multidisciplinary teams who are dedicated to helping teenagers achieve success in recovery. Contact us today to learn more.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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