Dangers of ketamine


  • Ask Dr G
  • Sunday, 26 Jun 2016

THE famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung, who created some of the best psychology concepts including extraversion and introversion, once said: “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” 

Today (June 26) marks the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Since 1987, the United Nations has been determined to strengthen action and cooperation towards the goal of achieving a society free of drug abuse. 

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said: “I call on countries and communities to continue to improve the lives of everyone blighted by drug abuse by integrating security and public safety with heightened focus on health, human rights and sustainable development.” 

What does this special day mean to you? Does it take for someone from our family affected by illicit drugs to finally take notice of the scale of the problems of drug abuse? This week, we discuss a mother’s pain of fearing the worse for her son. 

Dear Dr G,  

I know you usually address issues related to sexual health but I really hope you can shed some light on our family problem.  

Due to the sensitivity of the matter, I also hope you don't mind I remain anonymous.  

I have a 19 years old son.   

Since he started varsity, he has not been himself at all.  

Most of the time, my son gets drowsy and sleepy. However, the most obvious symptom he has is frequent urination.

I noticed my son cannot hold his urine more than an hour and he usually wakes up more than five times a night to urinate.  

I was also shocked to notice blood in the toilet bowl after he left the toilet unflushed.  

I also tried to confront him after I noticed some white powder in his pocket, but he was really upset and told me it was nothing.  

I tried to make my son understand that he is destroying his own future, but he is not listening.  

I understand from a recent radio interview you mentioned the impact of ketamine on the urinary tract and bladder contraction.

Do you think my son is on ketamine?

What exactly is ketamine? It is not a “hardcore” drug, right?

How can I make him stop?

This is an absolute nightmare for me, and I really hope you can help.  

Desperate parent.  

Ketamine is medicine mainly used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. It induces a trance-like state while providing pain relief and sedation, and can lead to memory loss.  

This drug was discovered in 1962, and is on the World Health Organisation list of essential medicine.  

Although in the 21st century, the use of ketamine is less important and mainly confined to veterinary medicine. Sadly, this once important drug has found its way to the streets to become a recreation drug.  

With the street name such as “Vitamin K” or “Special K”, it is popular as a “club drug” because it induces dissociation and hallucination.  

This has the psychedelic effect, which put the users in an “out of body” feeling. As recreational drug, ketamine is often sold in powder form and can be taken orally or snorted. 

It can also dissolve in liquids such as drinks, known as date rape drug.  

In recent years, it has become clear that ketamine can cause shrinkage and fibrotic changes to the urinary bladder. 

The damage results in bladder ulcerations that can cause the sufferers to have difficulty in holding the urine, resulting in frequency, urgency and incontinence.  

In severe cases, the sufferers may also experience severe pelvic pain and bloody urine. Such symptoms are often misdiagnosed as urinary tact infections and delayed in treatment.  

The exact mechanism of bladder injury induced by ketamine is unknown. However, the research revealed that ketamine abuse results in bladder cells becoming severely damaged and scarred. 

This is known as ketamine bladder syndrome. In severe cases, it may also result in blockages of the kidney and causes renal failures.  

The treatment of ketamine bladder may involve medicines such as anti-inflammatory, anti-cholinergics and painkillers. However, the only way to solve the problem is cessation of the drug usage.  

Winston Churchill once said: “Courage is what it takes to start up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”.  

The theme for this year's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is: “Listen First”.  

Drug abuse is often a cry for help. It is understandable for a parent to be devastated when faced with such a challenge.  

Dr G’s advice is simply “sit down and listen first”, followed by medical treatment.  

 

Dr George Lee

Dr George Lee

Dr George Lee is a consultant Urologist and Clinical Associate Professor whose professional interest is in men’s health. The column “Ask Dr G” is a forum to help men debunk the myths and taboos on men’s issues that may be too “hard” to mention. You can send him questions at askdrg@thestar.com.my