Disclosures: Palamar reports having consulted for the biopharmaceutical company Alkermes plc. The other authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
October 12, 2021
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Recreational ketamine use, poisonings have increased

Disclosures: Palamar reports having consulted for the biopharmaceutical company Alkermes plc. The other authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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Recreational ketamine use and availability have increased in the U.S. in recent years, despite still being an uncommon drug, according to study results published in American Journal of Public Health.

“An abundance of recent research has focused on the efficacy of ketamine in treating depression, but few studies have been examining recreational use,” Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, of the department of population health at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, told Healio Psychiatry. “Ketamine has been a leading party drug since the ‘90s, so we felt it was important to estimate rates of use given so much recent research and media coverage regarding its medical benefits.”

infographic with Palamar quote

Palamar and colleagues aimed to describe trends in nonmedical ketamine use, poisonings and law enforcement seizures using generalized additive models. Specifically, they evaluated trends in past-year recreational use between 2006 and 2019 using data of U.S. teens and adults who participated in the nationally representative National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They examined trends in ketamine-linked poisonings between 1991 and 2019 using data from poison control centers across the country. Further, the examined law enforcement ketamine seizure trends between 2000 and 2019 via data from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Laboratory Information System.

Results showed a quarterly increase in self-reported nonmedical ketamine use between 2006 and 2014, as well as an increase between 2015 and 2019, with a peak of 0.9% in late 2019. Between 1991 and 2019, the rate of poisonings increased, reaching 1.1 per 1,000,000 population in 2014 and remaining stable through 2019. Ketamine seizures by law enforcement increased between 2000 and 2019, reaching a peak in 2019 at 3.2 per 1,000 seizures.

Although nonmedical ketamine use rates increased, its prevalence remains relatively rare, with less than 1% of teens and adults using it, the researchers noted.

“Ketamine is by no means the most dangerous drug, but it has dissociative effects that can place people at risk if they aren’t careful,” Palamar said. “As recreational ketamine use will likely become more popular again, people who decide to use it need to know what they’re doing in order to prevent harm.”