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  • Ketamine & Brain Damage | How Ketamine Affects The Brain

    Ketamine & Brain Damage | How Ketamine Affects The Brain

    Ketamine is a psychedelic drug most commonly associated with illicit use. It can alter thoughts, feelings, and awareness of surroundings. Ketamine is also a dissociative hallucinogen, which can make you feel disconnected from yourself and your environment. 

    Ketamine causes several initial short-term effects on the brain, including disorientation and altered perceptions. Long-term use may lead to brain damage in several areas of the brain, which may cause depression, memory loss, and other negative effects. 

    How Ketamine Works

    Ketamine primarily interferes with the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is responsible for several functions. Glutamate is involved with learning, memory, emotion, and pain perception. 

    Animal studies have found that ketamine may also negatively affect GABA receptors, which are responsible for regulating fear and anxiety. 

    Initially, ketamine may cause visual and auditory disturbances and a sense of dissociation from self. It may also cause a wide range of other side effects, depending on the dose and how frequently you use it. 

    Side-effects of ketamine may include:

    • disorientation
    • confusion
    • hallucinations
    • altered perceptions
    • high blood pressure
    • rapid heart rate
    • memory loss
    • paranoia
    • feelings of invulnerability
    • aggression

    The effects of ketamine can last several hours but some people may experience side effects even longer.

    In high doses, ketamine may also cause sedation, immobility, and frightening sensory detachment. Sensory detachment, which is often referred to as a “k-hole,” may feel similar to a near-death experience. 

    Ketamine & Brain Damage

    Despite research on the benefits of ketamine in treating depression and chronic pain, it may also have severe adverse effects. Long-term ketamine abuse may cause abnormalities in several areas of the brain, which increases the risk of memory loss and depression. 

    Areas of the brain that may be negatively affected by ketamine include:

    • prefrontal cortex (cognitive behavior)
    • parietal lobe (processing sensory information)
    • occipital lobe (processing visual information) 
    • limbic system (emotion and memory)
    • brainstem (regulates breathing, heart rate, and body temperature)
    • corpus striatum (cognitive and motor control)
    • hippocampus (memories, learning, and emotions)

    Long-term use of ketamine may increase the risk of severe damage to these areas of the brain. According to the National Library of Medicine, a study on a group of people with ketamine addiction showed severe damage to neurons (brain cells) after four years of use.  

    Long-term use of ketamine may also result in increased tolerance. A higher tolerance means you may require increasingly higher doses to achieve the same effects. High doses are associated with an increased risk for health effects and brain damage. 

    Traumatic Brain Injury

    Ketamine is in a class of drugs known as NMDA receptor antagonists, which are most commonly used as anesthetics. 

    Ketamine is FDA-approved for its medical use as an anesthetic in animals and humans and is considered safe. Conflicting studies have found ketamine may increase intracranial pressure, which would suggest ketamine is unsafe in people with head injuries. 

    However, studies on people with traumatic brain injuries who received ketamine as an anesthetic did not show any adverse reactions. Under appropriate medical supervision, ketamine as an anesthetic is safe in most cases. 

    Ketamine & Depression

    Although ketamine is associated with depression and cognitive impairment, the field of psychiatry is interested in its potential therapeutic benefits. Researchers are interested in the use of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression and other mental health disorders. 

    Typical antidepressant medications may take weeks to alleviate symptoms but ketamine would act more rapidly. Ketamine infusion therapy is currently used as an off-label treatment for depression. 

    Medical use involves a low dose of ketamine in a controlled environment. Supervision of a healthcare professional is required to monitor its effects and ensure the proper dose is administered. 

    Despite its potential benefits, ketamine treatment may worsen the effects of psychosis in individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

    Ketamine Dependence & Withdrawal

    Recreational use of ketamine is not safe and may result in severe short-term and long-term effects. Long-term substance abuse may result in physical dependence, which means your body needs the drug to function. 

    If you suddenly stop using it, it can affect the production of dopamine and other chemicals in your brain. As the drug leaves your system, you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. 

    Ketamine withdrawal symptoms may include:

    • cravings
    • fatigue
    • chills
    • sweating
    • sleep problems
    • restlessness
    • anxiety 

    Although ketamine withdrawal is not life-threatening, it can have adverse effects on your mental health. A professional detox program can keep you safe and comfortable during the difficult detoxification process. 

    Following detox, professional treatment options can help you build a solid foundation for recovery. These treatment options may include outpatient or residential programs, which often provide behavioral therapy and counseling. 

    If you or a loved one is addicted to Ketamine, please contact Ark Behavioral Health for more information about treatment options.  

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Davis Sugar, M.D.
    on July 9, 2022
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