Research highlights increase in illegal ketamine use

Illegal ketamine use is increasing among young people worldwide – particularly within the electronic dance music scene, according to university research.

Studies at two British universities in Bath and Lancaster saw the findings as evidence of a “continued desire for altered states of intoxication by at least some groups within society”.

Their research is the focus of a special issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory on ketamine use in the UK, Europe and the US.

Published this week, it will be the first international collection of papers of its kind.

Ketamine was originally developed in the 1960s as an anaesthetic and is still used by the veterinary and medical professions.

The study said ketamine use was increasing among young people from all socio-economic backgrounds, including students, those in full time employment, young professionals and clubbers.

Dr Fiona Measham, of Lancaster University said: “Ketamine has come out of nowhere. Ten to fifteen years ago, few people were choosing to take ketamine but now it’s in the top seven drugs according to Drugscope.

“Over the past 10 years it has gone from 2% to 3% of clubbers to three times that in terms of monthly usage.”

Ketamine was recently classified as a class C substance in the UK – its use was not illegal until January 1 2006.

The study said there was growing concern among experts over the British government’s drug policy, particularly its “persistent belief” in the deterrent value of the ABC classification system, evident in recent moves to re-classify cannabis to Class B.

Dr Karenza Moore, of Lancaster University, added: “Since classification British users report little or no change in price, availability, patterns of use, nor their perceptions of ketamine, leading us to question the deterrent value of current British drug policy.”

A user in one of the studies on ketamine, named Carl, described it as “the most fun you can have for twenty quid”.

Researchers found ketamine is increasingly popular among older and more experienced recreational drug users who tend to take more than one drug either consecutively or concurrently.

Among women, there was concern that taking ketamine might make some women “more vulnerable” than when under the influence of other popular illicit drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine.

Users usually consume ketamine by snorting lines of the white powder into the nasal passage to be absorbed by mucous membranes in a manner similar to cocaine.

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