DEALogo DRCNet Response to the
Drug Enforcement Administration

Ketamine Abuse Increasing

February 4, 1997

Ketamine, an anesthetic for human and veterinary use, is a legitimately manufactured product that is being abused with increasing frequency. On the street, the drug is often called "K" or "Special K." It produces effects similar to those produced by picncyclidine (PCP), and the visual effects of LSD. Drug users say "Special K" produces a better high than PCP or LSD because its effects last an hour or less. The drug, however, can affect the senses, judgement, and coordination for 18 to 24 hours.

Ketamine hydrochloride is used as an anesthetic for both humans and animals. Vets use it primarily to immobilize cats or monkeys. Its use in human surgery has declined with introduction of safer, more effective products. The synthesis of ketamine is complicated, and to date, diversion of the legitimate product is the only known source on the street.

Ketamine hydrochloride powder can look very similar to pharmaceutical grade cocaine HCl. Ketamine powder can be snorted like cocaine, mixed into drinks, or smoked. The liquid is either injected, applied to smokable materials, or consumed in drinks.

Veterinarians pay a retail price of about $7 per vial of liquid. Middlemen may pay $30-$45 per vial, and drug users may pay $100-$200 per vial. A pharmaceutical vial of liquid contains the equivalent of about one gram of powder. A smaller quantity, called a "bump," is about 0.2 gram and costs about $20.

Ketamine can produce a very wide range of effects, and users adjust the dosage depending on the effect desired. The drug's effect can be influenced by body size, built-up tolerance, the presence of alcohol or other drugs, the method of administration, and the setting in which the drug is consumed. In the past several years, law enforcement has encountered ketamine powder packaged in small plastic bags, folded paper, aluminum foil, and capsules. These packets commonly contain 0.2 gram, and more recently, 0.07 gram.

Some users inhale about 0.02 grams in each nostril, repeated in 5-10 minute intervals until the desired state is reached. A dose of 0.07 gram may produce intoxication. A larger dose of 0.2 gram may result in "K-land," a "mellow, colorful wonder-world." A dose of 0.5 grams can produce a so-called "K-hole" or "out-of-body, near-death experience." With repeated daily exposure, users can develop tolerance and psychological dependence.

Ketamine abuse has been reported at teen "rave" parties. Law enforcement agencies are encountering ketamine abuse when stopping drivers for what appears to be driving while intoxicated. Veterinary clinics have been burglarized for ketamine. These are among the factors that have caused the DEA to re-evaluate the control status of the drug. Since it is a controlled substance only in California, Connecticut, New Mexico and Oklahoma, most law enforcement data collection systems do not have record instances of ketamine abuse.

Since 1993, the DEA Office of Diversion Control has been collecting data on ketamine and its abuse. Reports of encounters with ketamine may be faxed to (202) 307-8570, or mailed to:

Drug Enforcement Administration
Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section
Office of Diversion Control
700 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA 22202

Travel back to the DRCNet Response to the DEA Home Page

Travel back to the Diversion Control Table of Contents