Let's Discuss Ketamine's Reclassification As A Class B Drug
The Debrief: Without spiralling into a K-hole
Here’s a story. At a swanky 21st birthday in 2008, each table of a grand hall was adorned with a fishbowl at its centrepiece. Each fishbowl contained some fish, idly gawping and flipping about. Over at the toilet bowls, a girl whose name I won’t recall, abuzz with the joy of her acquaintance’s milestone birthday, did what she thought was a line of coke. It turned out to be ketamine, and once its effects took hold, she fell into a k-hole. (Side note, that means: freaking out, feeling isolated, like you've shrunk into a miniature person living 200 miles at the back of your head and your body is no longer yours.) Anyway, back to that 21st. Scrambling to pull her from the abyss, the girl's similarly k-addled mates slapped her about the face. One dunked a glass into the fishbowl to get her friend some water. She passed the glass to her half-mangled friend, who sank not only the water, but an entire goldfish. The poor girl immediately shat herself.
With horror stories like this, it’s no wonder that as of this week, the Government have reclassified ketamine as a Class B drug. The change came after evidence showed an increase in daily consumption of the drug. Last year, Home Secretary Theresa May asked the ACMD (Advisory Council For The Misuse Of Drugs) to look into the drug and the subsequent report found that intensive use leads to severe bladder and kidney damage.
But there are other opinions about the drug, too, and the report itself claimed that there is no national data to show how many cases of ketamine use have reached the stage where surgery is required. In 2011, The Lancet published a report from The Independent Scientific Committee On Drugs based on the damage each drug causes; not only damage done to the user but those around them. The drugs were then placed on a scale from 1-100 with 100 being the worst. Alcohol ended up at 72 and ketamine at 15. The report, headed up by Professor David Nutt, acknowledged ‘the findings correlate poorly with present UK drug classification, which is not based simply on considerations of harm'. The report also placed MDMA at 9 and cocaine at 27. This wasn’t the first time Professor Nutt had produced a controversial drug report. He was sacked from the ACMD in 2009 after a report which said that alcohol and tobacco were more dangerous than Class A drugs such as LSD and ecstasy.
In the face of conflicting drug rating systems, I’ve got my own internalised drug rating system. And, despite the horror stories, my own experience has put ketamine towards the better end of it. Cocaine, worth more than its weight in gold, had always been a nuisance to me. It’s only acquired status because, just like diamonds, a lot of blood is shed for it to get from Colombia to my pocket. There’s nothing else to better wallop cocaine’s perceived glamour from your psyche than spending a clammy comedown in the blue glare of a laptop screen, looking at photojournalism reports of the Mexican drug wars. Images of beheaded corpses on a sandy roadside, with captions explaining that cocaine is made from petrol and transported in condoms that mules get the pleasure of pooing out, really are to be sniffed at.
I’ve got my own internalised drug-rating system. And my own experience has put ketamine towards the better end of it
To my mind, however, Ketamine is made with a purpose. The myth runs that it’s used for horses, but it is also used for operating on humans. According to a 2012 World Health Organisation report: ‘Anaesthesia without ketamine in this part of the world [Africa] is unthinkable.’ In lieu of a general anaesthetic, it helps people in shock to disassociate themselves from their pain. Which, I guess, might be the reason anyone in their mid-20s takes drugs. If teenage drug-taking is about experimentation and student drug binges are about pushing boundaries, doing drugs in your mid-20s is about forgetting the new responsibilities and troubles that come with the territory of being alive for longer.
That’s my problem with MDMA. Though Professor Nutt says it’s not so bad, as my ambitions at work have extended beyond my desire to have a banging weekend, I’m never going to deal with any sort of real-life problems if I’ve stayed up all night, pawing contorted hands at near strangers to tell them how much I adore them. And the following Tuesday, a day of misery akin to every incident of PMT curled up into one sad, needy ball, just isn’t worth it.
Ketamine, by contrast, provided I’ve not convinced yourself that a moving truck is a sofa, has only ever left me a bit snotty the next day. I'm most likely to just feel a bit spaced-out, everything wobbling, time and space seemingly malleable. Once, a chair asked me to sit on it, but I've found, for the most part, that being nailed on ketamine is a lot like being drunk, just underwater. And more than one scientist says it’s less dangerous than booze. As well as Nutt’s research, one 2004 report into the acute physical risks of drugs shows that you would have to take 38 times the ‘effective’ amount of ketamine to get a fatal overdose, whereas to have a fatal overdose of alcohol would only require 10 times its ‘effective’ amount. And ketamine’s availability means it’s rarely cut with other stuff. However, that said, a girl did die of taking ketamine after drinking just a few cans of lager.
I've found that being nailed on ketamine is a lot like being drunk, just underwater
In case this reads too much like an advert for k-holes, none of the above is great news. If you can take a drug with so few immediate consequences, what’s not to say you won’t end up taking it all the time? Every time you emerge from the mental fog k puts you under, so your resistance to the drug increases; according to a 2010 report, frequent ketamine users increased their dose by 600%.
The effects might not be terrible immediately, but we still don’t know the long-term effects; ketamine was only recognised enough as a recreational drug to be made illegal in 2006. It’s a relatively young drug, but with early reports pointing to bladder damage so severe that people are said to be pissing out chunks of gelatinous blood, their bladders removed to make way for plastic replacements and catheters, I’m starting to think twice about doing a noseful.
With reports pointing to bladder damage so severe that people are said to be pissing out chunks of gelatinous blood, I’m starting to think twice about doing a noseful of K
And then there are the people I know who use it almost daily. They don’t tell me that they’re taking it to alleviate the symptoms they get from, um… taking k, such as bladder pain and abdominal cramps (known as k-cramps). But according to Professor Curran’s 2011 review of ketamine for medical journal Addiction, a lot of people will take ketamine simply to alleviate the long-term effects of… ketamine. Friends of mine will feel really rubbish the day after a binge of ket. Not because it makes them feel physically rubbish, but because they’re no longer on it and they’re starting to miss it. And that’s scarier than any k-hole I’ve ever been in.
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating