6 Things You Should Know About Ketamine's Effects on the Teenage Brain and Body

Teenagers and young adults most commonly abuse ketamine as a “club drug” for its dissociative and hallucinogenic properties. Drugs and alcohol can have a much more significant impact on the teenage brain and body than on older adults.

What is Ketamine? How is it Used?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug that typically comes in powder or liquid form. Since ketamine is labeled a Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act next to codeine and anabolic steroids, it does not have a high potential for abuse and addiction. In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of esketamine, the S(+) enantiomer of ketamine, in a nasal spray (Spravato) for treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine is accepted for medical use of short-term sedation or anesthesia, along with Spravato (esketamine) as an antidepressant drug for depression. It can be snorted, injected, ingested, or smoked when ketamine is obtained illicitly.

ketamine's effects on teenagers

Ketamine’s short-term side effects and symptoms may include:

  • Problems with memory, attention, and learning
  • Sedation
  • Hallucinations
  • Sense of detachment
  • Confusion and trouble speaking
  • Muscle stiffness and numbness
  • Motor impairments
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Amnesia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Unconsciousness
  • Slowed breathing (respiratory depression)

While approved for prescription and medical uses, ketamine is illicitly obtained and abused for its hallucinogenic effects, primarily among young adults and teens. Ketamine is often illicitly used as a “club drug” for raves, festivals, and nightclubs. The anesthetic drug has also been used to incapacitate victims of sexual assault, also called a “date rape drug.” Ketamine use among teenagers, especially high school students, is a rising concern in the United States, with nearly 3 percent of high school seniors having used ketamine at least once in the past year. Ketamine street names include special K, vitamin K, Kit Kat, purple, K, cat valium, and ket.

6 Ways Ketamine Impacts the Teenage Brain and Body

Ketamine abuse can cause a range of adverse effects on the human brain and body, especially in teenagers. The short and long-term effects of ketamine in teenagers may vary depending on the dosage, duration of use, age, BMI, and health status. The health-related consequences of substance abuse can be more severe than that of older individuals. Teenagers who abuse substances like ketamine put themselves at a higher risk of injuries, accidents, illness, homicide, and suicide.

1. Ketamine’s Effects on Neurodevelopment

Teenagers who regularly use ketamine may experience a disruption in normal brain development, potentially leading to ketamine-induced neurotoxicity. The toxic effects of ketamine can impair fundamental functions and regions in the teenage brain, including those involved in emotional regulation, decision-making, and executive function. The adolescent brain is often more adversely affected by drug abuse due to this critical period of neurodevelopment. Teens using ketamine may experience poor focus and academic performance, psychosocial problems, and neurocognitive deficits like memory impairments.

teenager struggling with ketamine's effects on the teenage brain and body

2. Mental Health Risks with Ketamine Use

While low doses of medically prescribed ketamine can produce antidepressant effects, recreational ketamine can worsen mental health conditions or induce them. Illicit ketamine can exacerbate mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, especially at high doses and with chronic consumption.

Adolescence is a challenging time for teenagers—emotionally, socially, and physically. Due to this critical stage of development, teenagers are relatively vulnerable to mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal depression. With regular ketamine use, this emotional distress can be amplified, leading to potentially risky behaviors, strained relationships, and poor academic performance.

3. Ketamine and Cognitive Dysfunction

The cognitive effects of ketamine use in teens can lead to long-term memory problems and learning deficits. Teenagers who use drugs may begin struggling with academic performance, attendance, attention span, and learning abilities. Cognitive impairments at a young age can pose several issues for individuals as their brain continues to develop as they age, potentially leading to permanent cognitive dysfunction.

4. Psychological Impact of Ketamine

Ketamine’s psychological impact on teens can impair several areas of their lives, including their social environment, academics, future careers, family, and everyday functioning. The side effects of ketamine can cause teens to experience severe hallucinations, dissociation, confusion, anxiety, and paranoia. These effects can influence harmful decisions and reactions, potentially worsening mental health conditions and cognitive impairments.

5. Ketamine’s Potential for Addiction and Dependence

While Schedule III substances have a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence, there is still an abuse potential. Adolescents, primarily teenagers, are at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD). Ketamine addictions in teenagers can impact every facet of life: physically, mentally, socially, and academically. A ketamine overdose is possible with large doses of ketamine or when mixed with other substances like alcohol.

6. Physical Health Consequences of Ketamine

Regular use of ketamine in teenagers can cause cognitive impairments such as poor memory, learning problems, or trouble with concentrating and thinking. Teens may experience mental health issues such as depression or anxiety as a result of chronic ketamine use. Ketamine bladder syndrome can develop from recreational ketamine use, having a severe and irreversible impact on the urinary tract. Ketamine abuse may also lead to kidney problems, liver damage, and heart conditions in teens.

teenager in therapy in drug rehab for ketamine's effects

South Florida Addiction Treatment for Substance Abuse in Teens

For teenagers struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, it’s essential to know that you’re not alone. Approximately 19.8% of 10th graders and 31.2% of high school seniors reported illicit drug use in the last year. Seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction in teenagers can protect their psychological, physical, social, and neurological health.

If your teenager is struggling with substance use or a loved one, reach out today. Rock Recovery Center in Palm Beach, FL, provides holistic addiction treatment programs for individuals struggling with addiction.

Our South Florida drug rehab center offers intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), and outpatient treatment in West Palm Beach.