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Quickly Recognize a Ketamine Overdose (& What to Do)

Most people do not intend to overdose, but taking any drug for recreational reasons always poses this risk.

Ketamine has become popular among people who go to clubs and dance parties. Learn to quickly recognize the signs of a ketamine overdose — doing so could save a life.

Medical Use

Ketamine was first approved for use in veterinary clinics and later approved for use in humans as an anesthetic.

Even when used in a medical setting, human error can cause patients to have an overdose. The Daily Mail reports that in January 2018, a Mayo Clinic patient overdosed after a doctor administered ketamine that was in a higher concentration than intended.

The patient, who had sleep apnea, was having surgery when he was administered a ketamine dose that was 10 times the correct amount. Doctors did not notice what happened until after surgery when he was taking a long time to wake up. Thankfully, the patient eventually woke up, and this error served as a warning to other doctors to be careful.

Ketamine Abuse

Illicit forms of ketamine are sold as pills or powder that can be dissolved and mixed with liquids. Ketamine is popular for use as a psychedelic. Most users who take it recreationally do not know enough about chemistry or medicine to figure out when they have taken too much.

Signs of Ketamine Overdose

Per the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, no dosage of ketamine is safe when used for nonmedical purposes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) say ketamine is known to cause the following symptoms if misused:

Symptoms of Ketamine Abuse

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Flashbacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Euphoria

Ketamine also presents physical symptoms as part of its high, but similar symptoms occur during an overdose of the drug, including:

  • Slower breathing
  • Arrhythmia
  • Possibility of serious accidents, such as falling.
  • Inability to move

In 2011, The Guardian wrote about the death of a young woman due to ketamine when she was 21. She did not overdose but instead decided to take a bath while still under the drug’s influence. She fell asleep and drowned. As such, an overdose of the drug is not necessary to cause death; simple use can result in death.

Though these symptoms are serious enough on their own, taking too much ketamine could result in even more serious consequences such as:

  • Seizures
  • Heartbeat abnormalities
  • Brain damage

The Evening Standard reports that overdosing on ketamine is not easy, but it is still a possibility.
Fatalities from ketamine are more likely if a person has used other substances, such as alcohol. In February 2014, the Telegraph reported the case of an 18-year-old girl who died as a result of snorting ketamine after having several beers.

The Importance of Finding Professional Help in an Emergency

People who are under the influence of ketamine may not necessarily overdose, but they may still need medical assistance if they can’t move, have a psychotic episode, or hallucinate.

If a person has taken ketamine and looks like they are asleep, it is still wise to get help for them. Not doing anything, even out of fear that you could get in trouble, could be fatal for someone who has overdosed.

Many states and municipalities are passing and enforcing Good Samaritan laws that protect bystanders from prosecution if they help someone who is having an overdose or call for emergency medical services.

Call 911 if a person is suffering from one or more common symptoms of overdose, such as vomiting, loss of consciousness, or slower breathing. The emergency dispatcher will provide more instructions.

Gather information as you wait for paramedics. This can include:

Important Information for Paramedics.

  • Information about the person’s medical history
  • Medications or supplements the person takes
  • How much ketamine they have consumed
  • When drugs were consumed
  • If more than one drug was consumed
  • Any known allergies
  • Whether or not this person is pregnant or breastfeeding

Providing this information to paramedics will help them provide the best possible care during an overdose emergency.

If you recognize any of the symptoms of ketamine overdose in someone you know has taken the drug, don’t delay. Call for help immediately.