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The rise and fall and rise of ketamine

A favourite of psychonauts, psychologists and sesh gremlins alike, ketamine has enjoyed a colourful history

  • Words: Mike Power | Illustration: Sam Taylor
  • 2 May 2017
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What kind of drug brings together kittens and quantum science? Where does it come from, what does it do to you, how safe is it, and how did an anaesthetic become a drug used on dancefloors?

In public recreational use, ketamine tends to be used in sub anaesthetic doses; small bumps give a sense of euphoric dislocation, a loose rubberiness to the legs, and a feeling of floating. Too much, and you’re into the K-Hole, immobilised as your mind travels through itself and back and beyond.

Ketamine’s main medicinal use is as an anaesthetic for children, or car crash victims, or for people wounded on the battlefield, as well as in poorer countries, because unlike general anaesthesia, no expert backup team is required since the drug does not disable your respiratory system. It is used by vets to tranquilise pets ahead of surgery, since the drug blocks pain channels and wears off quickly.

The drug first appeared in the UK in significant quantities in the early 90s, when ravers fresh back from Goa’s trance scene bought or posted litres of the drug, disguised as rosewater back home. Ketamine was at that time legal in India, and could be bought for just a few pounds a gramme. It was only class C in the UK, putting it on a par with drugs such as anabolic steroids or sleeping pills.

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