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When it comes to medications and their classifications, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of pharmaceutical terms. One question that has been gaining attention is, “Is ketamine an opioid?”

What Is Ketamine? 

Ketamine is a powerful drug with a number of medical uses. Originally used as anesthesia during surgery, ketamine is now used in hospitals for pain relief, as a sedative, and as a promising antidepressant. The medical use of ketamine is approved by the FDA, and these days, ketamine therapy is considered safe and effective. While ketamine has an impressive list of benefits and potentially lifesaving uses, many people abuse it without medical supervision.

When used recreationally, ketamine (slang terms include cat valium, K, special K) is a dissociative analgesic. This refers to its pain-relieving qualities, as well as the “out-of-body” effect some users experience. Ketamine can induce a state of sedation (feeling calm and relaxed), immobility, relief from pain, and amnesia (no memory of events while under the influence of the drug). Because of its sedative effects, many people use it as a date-rape drug.

Like many recreational drugs, ketamine can cause specific changes in your brain chemistry that may lead to misuse, abuse, or addiction. Because of its addictive nature and effects on brain chemistry, ketamine is now classified as a Schedule III controlled substance. It can be found laced in weed, as a powder, and as an injection.

How Long Does Ketamine Stay in Your System?

If you’re wondering, “How long does ketamine last?” you have to look at its half-life (the time it takes for the body to get rid of 50 percent of the drug). The half-life of ketamine can range from 45 minutes to four hours. Ketamine usually clears from the body within one to three days. The exact time it takes your system to eliminate ketamine depends on a variety of factors, like:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Body mass
  • Metabolism
  • Drug dosage

Is Ketamine an Opioid?

The clear-cut answer is no: ketamine is not an opioid. Despite being used for pain relief and having sedative properties, ketamine works differently from opioids. Opioids primarily bind to mu-opioid receptors, altering the perception of pain and often leading to euphoria. In contrast, ketamine targets NMDA (N methyl D aspartate), blocking the activity of glutamate. Opioids act as central nervous system depressants, creating a sense of relaxation and euphoria. Ketamine, on the other hand, induces dissociation and alters sensory perception.

Why Is There Confusion About Ketamine vs Opioids?

In 2018, an article was published about using ketamine in combination with an opioid receptor blocker also known as naltrexone. Researchers found that patients given ketamine with naltrexone had less of an antidepressant effect. From
this, people presumed that since ketamine’s effect was decreased with an opioid-receptor blocker, then it must be an opioid.

However, another pilot study that looked at the combination of naltrexone and ketamine found that pre-treatment with naltrexone had no effect on ketamine’s antidepressant effect. Instead, they found it may actually be a benefit for those who have a combined alcohol use disorder with depression.

Because the overwhelming evidence shows that ketamine works primarily on the NMDA receptor, then it is not a true opioid.

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Like many addictive recreational drugs, ketamine can cause specific changes in your brain chemistry that may lead to misuse, abuse, or addiction. That said, evidence suggests that ketamine has a low potential for addiction compared to opioids.

Studies indicate that Ketamine users are less likely to develop a dependency on the drug. The dissociative and hallucinogenic effects may deter recreational use, reducing the risk of habitual consumption. However, after prolonged misuse of ketamine, users develop tolerance. When you develop a tolerance for ketamine, you end up needing more of the drug to get the same effects. After continued use of ketamine, you can develop a strong psychological dependence on ketamine.

A ketamine high is short and can end abruptly. Thus, ketamine users often take the drug in a binge pattern to maintain the high over a long time. This can lead to building tolerance quickly. When stopping ketamine use, ketamine withdrawal symptoms begin—typically around 24 hours after your last dose. Frequent ketamine users report trying but often failing to stop using ketamine, so medical supervised detox is recommended.

What Is Ketamine Therapy?

Actor Matthew Perry’s tragic death from “the acute effects of ketamine” raised many questions about the drug. But the truth is ketamine therapy — a treatment Perry was receiving under medical supervision — is an exciting frontier in mental health treatment. This innovative approach involves the controlled administration of ketamine to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Unlike traditional antidepressants, Ketamine often delivers rapid relief, making it a promising option for individuals who haven’t responded well to other treatments.

In 2021, international group of experts on mood disorders published a paper on the current evidence of two forms of the ketamine — a nasal spray called esketamine and intravenous ketamine — for managing treatment-resistant depression. They noted that the drugs offer “opportunity and hope” to patients, but that there is an “urgent need to clarify the long-term efficacy of these agents as well as significant unanswered questions with respect to safety.” A trusted physician or mental health-care provider should be consulted and present if ketamine therapy is a treatment option for you.

The Experience: Does Ketamine Therapy Get You High?

An intriguing aspect of ketamine therapy is an altered state of consciousness. Patients may experience a “K-hole,” characterized by profound dissociation and introspection. However, it’s essential to distinguish this from the typical notion of getting high. The therapeutic effects of Ketamine are rooted in its ability to reset neural pathways, offering a new perspective to those struggling with mental health challenges.

Candidacy Considerations

While Ketamine therapy holds promise, it’s not suitable for everyone. Ketamine treatment, in general, is for people suffering from serious mental illness who have tried other medications with little or no relief. It has been most widely studied in people with treatment-resistant depression and acute suicidality. It may also benefit patients with conditions such as PTSD, OCD, bipolar depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Who Is Not a Good Candidate for Ketamine Therapy?

People with certain conditions such as psychosis generally are not candidates for therapeutic ketamine.

Ketamine Addiction Treatment at Aliya 

If you or a loved one are struggling with ketamine use, Aliya Health Group’s treatment programs are here to help. Detox is the first step on your path to recovery. Medical detox provides a highly structured care plan, including 24/7 monitoring. It’s a way to safely and effectively begin treatment for drug addiction. You’ll have high-quality support as you go through ketamine withdrawal.

Your medically supported detox will cater to your unique treatment needs. That’s why medical detox begins with a comprehensive assessment. You’ll meet with a medical doctor and discuss your medical and psychiatric history. Then licensed professionals will assist you with an individualized plan.

Your treatment plan may include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Transportation aid
  • Skills to manage cravings
  • Aftercare referrals

Treatment does not end with medical detox. After reaching stability, you will need aftercare support for your psychological well-being. This is crucial to addiction recovery. Our team will work with you to create a specialized treatment approach to support your full recovery from ketamine addiction.

Treatment after detox includes:

  • Relapse prevention
  • Therapy
  • Medical support
  • Mental health support
  • Life-skills training

While it can feel scary to begin the detox process, the prognosis for recovery from ketamine abuse is very good. And you don’t have to do it alone. Allow us to help you take your first step on your journey to recovery.


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