Ketamine: New report highlights the harms of ketamine as well as the harms of classification
20 July 2011 London
The most comprehensive review to date of ketamine clearly shows physical and neurological harms to heavy users but also the harms associated with classifying a drug.
Dr Celia Morgan and Professor Val Curran carried out this review of existing data including their own original research over the past 11 years - on behalf of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. The analysis was in response to a clear lack of public and professional understanding of a drug that is now the fourth most popular recreational drug used by clubbers in the UK.
The report shows that ketamine can be addictive. For addicted ketamine users, the drug presents clear physical and psychological harms. A major physical harm is ‘K-bladder’ (ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis) which in some cases can result in a young person’s bladder being surgically removed. For these users, ketamine also causes and serious impairment to their short and long-term memory.
There is also risk of accidents for even occasional users. Previous research found that of 90 ketamine users, 13% reported personally being involved in an accident as a direct result of taking ketamine whereas 83% knew someone who had. Two frequent ketamine users from a sample of 30 in a longitudinal study by Morgan & Curran died between baseline testing and 12 month follow-up as a result of their acute ketamine use - one through drowning in a bath and one of hypothermia.
Today’s new report argues that these harms must be balanced with the value ketamine has for medical and veterinary practice.
The report also highlights the inability of the classification system to affect use as well as the harms of criminalisation. In the UK, ketamine was classified as a Class C substance in 2006. According to an annual drugs survey, the average price of a gram of ketamine in the UK fell from £30 to £20 between 2005 and 2008 and has since become cheaper still. Ketamine has been included in the British Crime Survey (BCS) since 2006 and an increase in numbers of ketamine users is estimated as from around 85,000 in 2006/2007 to 113,000 in 2008/2009. Similarly, a survey of clubbers in 2001 found that 25% of respondents had taken ketamine whilst in a similar survey in 2009, this had increased to 68%.
The report is particularly timely due to recent high profile deaths of young people that have been linked to ketamine use and calls for its reclassification.
Professor Val Curran, co-author of the study, said: “It is vital that ketamine users and professionals have access to accurate information on ketamine use to reduce its potential harms. With only one facility offering treatment specifically for ketamine addiction in the whole of London, there is an urgent need for an increase in addiction services nationwide for ketamine users, linking these with urological clinics and reviewing the effectiveness of classification as a means of reducing drug harms.”
Harm reduction advice for ketamine users is available here and advice for professionals working in the field is available here. More information on the work of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs can be found here.
The report will be published online in full by Addiction on 21 July 2011.
Notes to editors
- The full report will be published online on 20 July 2011 by Addiction on a subscription basis
- The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs was established by Professor David Nutt to investigate and review the scientific evidence relating to drugs, free from political concerns. The Committee provides accessible information on drugs to the public and professionals. It addresses issues surrounding drug harms and benefits; regulation and education; prevention, treatment and recovery .drugscience.org.uk.