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Ketamine High: How Does It Feel and What Are the Signs?

Last Updated: January 25, 2024

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Ketamine is a sedative used during surgeries to keep patients unconscious. On the one hand, using ketamine protects the patient from surgical pain, but on the other, the patient is receiving a high dose of a potent drug.

The effects of a Ketamine high depend on the number of repeated doses and body mass. While the strength may vary, the short-term effects are usually the same.

Ketamine is also a common medication prescribed to treat chronic pain. It contains hydrochloride salts, which have a sedative and pain-relieving effect on the patient. People have begun to use ketamine recreationally.

Ketamine High Definition

The ketamine high that users seek includes:

  • A profound state of relaxation
  • Connected to the universe or collective consciousness.
  • Vivid imagination
  • Time distortion
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Analgesia (pain relief) and anesthesia

These sensations can occur at any dose. Regular ketamine users often consume higher dosages, and their experience amplifies accordingly.

Side Effects Of Ketamine High

A ketamine high can include such side effects as impermeability to pain, sedation and relaxation, hypersalivation, loss of bodily sensations, muscle rigidity, blurred speech, changes in blood pressure, respiratory impairment, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

  • Impermeability to pain – The first and foremost sign of ketamine use and abuse is pain tolerance. Because the drug is blocking pain perception, a ketamine consumer won’t react to painful stimulation as expected. For example, there can be no natural withdrawal reflex, as it would occur in sober people. That might be one of the crucial clues, that someone is under the influence of ketamine or another strong sedative.
  • Sedation – The profound state of relaxation is the primary action of ketamine. It can be difficult to talk to a person that is high on that drug. A conversation can be frustrating and sometimes impossible because the person can simply not be aware that someone is talking to him or her.
  • Hypersalivation – A common sign of being sedated is to produce significant amounts of saliva. While that might not be particularly dangerous by itself, it is a clear sign of sedation. If one sees someone salivating a lot, chances are that this person is high on ketamine or otherwise sedated. Someone abnormally salivating should be observed, as that person could experience other, more dangerous symptoms.
  • Loss of bodily sensations – That can manifest as feeling numbness in limbs. Walking on the ground without feeling one’s feet can be experienced as floating. People can walk in slow motion or show excessive Loss of sensorimotor sensation usually leads to a lack of motor coordination. It is easy for a ketamine user to lose balance and fall over.
  • Muscle rigidity – In more acute doses, sensations can be lost completely, to the point of losing control over one’s limbs. The muscles become rigid so that the arms and legs are difficult to control. It can become hard to lift a limb or even to move it altogether. That is the state commonly referred to as K-whole. It could be described as hypertonia in medical terms. Experiencing that can be very scary, especially if it is the first time or if one is not aware what is happening. But that is also the state, which many ketamine users seek.
  • Blurred speech – Another consequence of sedation and muscle rigidity is a lack of coordination of all the muscles involved in speech. As a result, the person can seem confused and can speak very unclearly.
  • Changes in blood pressure – With repeated or higher doses they can be dangerous because they can lead to hypertension or tachycardia.
  • Respiratory impairment – Because ketamine causes muscle rigidity, it can include respiratory pathways. Many muscle groups are involved in breathing, including those around the torso and the neck. If these muscles become rigid or difficult to control, it might cause respiratory depression. The breathing can slow down to a point when it stops altogether. Needless to say, this state is life-threatening.
  • Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting – The uneasiness of the abdomen is not uncommon after high doses of ketamine. While it can seem harmless, it is, in fact, dangerous while being high on ketamine. It is the same reasoning as with breathing. If one cannot control muscles involved in respiration and digestion, it can be lethal. The drug-induced sedation can cause someone to choke on their vomit.

Mental Effects Of Ketamine Use

The mental effects of ketamine use are closely related to the physical consequences. Symptoms of ketamine use can include mood change, hallucinations, helplessness, vivid dreams, memory loss, aggressive behavior, euphoria.

  • Mood change – Some users report a change in mood and becoming silly and giggly.
  • Hallucinations – Ketamine can induce all sorts of illusions. People can start hallucinating: seeing, hearing or feeling what is not there. The sedative effects can make people feel as if they are detached from their body, that is why ketamine is considered as a dissociative substance. Altogether, people are prone to delusions. Of course, that leads to impaired judgment concerned the person’s perception of the world, the situation and the choices of his or her actions.
  • Helplessness – The overall lack of control of one’s body, sensations, and perception of the outside world can lead some people to a state of overall confusion. While some people seek that state, others experience it as frustrating helplessness. That is not dangerous is the consumer is in safe company. But that state can be easily abused. In public places, ketamine users can become particularly vulnerable to crime and ill-treatment.
  • Vivid dreams – Some users report experiencing vivid, eventful and very emotional dreams if they fall asleep during a ketamine high. If positive emotions drive them, these dreams can be extremely pleasant for some people. But the risk if also to suffer from intense nightmares. Mixed with the lack of control over one’s body, it can trigger panic attacks.
  • Memory loss – In addition to being confused, some people can suffer from amnesia. Once the high wears off, the person will not only be unsure about what happened. Some facts can be distorted, some not perceived and others simply not encoded. And that means that the person might not be sure what occurred during the high.
  • Aggressive behavior – Some ketamine consumer can become violent. That is particularly the case for people that already exhibit tendencies for aggression when sober. In that case, much like alcohol, ketamine only triggers that violent behavior and reinforce. That typically occurs, when such a person takes small enough doses that do not induce him or her into sedation. Instead, they may experience confusion. If that state is triggering panic, fear or uneasiness of lack of control, it can lead to violence.
  • Euphoria – At first, people usually experience agitation at some point. If the dose is sufficient, it can quickly turn into a state of calm, well-being, relaxation and euphoria.

Duration Of Ketamine High

A ketamine high usually lasts for no more than an hour, and is generally a short-acting drug. The onset depends on the ingestion type. After smoking or swallowing it, the ketamine-induced high begins as soon as 2-5 minutes later. But when ketamine is injected, the high can start already in 30 seconds.

Page Sources

  1. Wood D. Recreational ketamine: from pleasure to pain. BJU International. 2011; 107(12): 1881-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2010.10031.x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21314885.
  2. Hayase T., Yamamoto Y., Yamamoto K. Behavioral effects of ketamine and toxic interactions with psychostimulants. BMC Neuroscience. 2006; 7: 25. doi:10.1186/1471-2202-7-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1473192/.

Published on: November 17th, 2016

Updated on: January 25th, 2024

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


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