Many people who use the club drug ketamine may risk abdominal pain, a leaky bladder and other urinary tract symptoms, a new study suggests.
In medicine, ketamine is used as an anaesthetic. In clubs, where it's better known as "special K," ketamine is snorted, or sometimes injected; users say the drug creates feelings of euphoria and being "out of your body."
Ketamine abuse is on the rise in many countries. Repeated use has been linked to hallucinations and impaired memory, thinking and concentration. It can also cause high blood pressure.
The side effects don't stop there, however. Among the others are urinary tract symptoms, pain in the lower belly, painful urination, blood in the urine and bladder-control problems.
More use, more symptoms
But until now, there hadn't been estimate of how common those side effects may be.
In the new study, UK researchers found that of 1,285 young adults who said they'd abused ketamine in the past year, 27% had developed urinary tract symptoms.
And the heavier the dose or more frequent the use, the more likely people were to have symptoms.
The findings give an idea of the prevalence of urinary symptoms among ketamine abusers, said Angela M. Cottrell, a researcher at the Bristol Urological Institute in the UK who worked on the study. It's not clear how the rate compares with that among young people in general, Cottrell said.
Ketamine and urinary problems associated
But, she and her colleagues say, the findings confirm an association between ketamine and urinary problems.
"The take-home message is that regular ketamine use can lead to severe urinary symptoms," Cottrell said.
The findings, reported online in the British Journal of Urology International, are based on an online survey promoted by a UK club-music magazine called MixMag.
Of 3,806 young people who responded, half said they'd ever used ketamine, and 1,285 – or a third of the whole group -- said they'd used it in the last year.
The researchers found that of all past-year users, 17% had symptoms of dependence on ketamine – like wanting, but failing, to cut down on the drug. Not surprisingly, they tended to take the drug in bigger doses, and more often, than other users.
Symptoms disappear when abuse stops
In general, the odds of urinary problems and abdominal pain went up as ketamine doses climbed, and with more frequent use.
Those symptoms often seem to go away once the ketamine abuse stops.
In this study, 251 survey respondents described their experience. Half said they'd stopped using the drug and their symptoms had improved. Another 43% still had urinary problems, but were also still abusing ketamine. Four percent said their urinary problems were getting worse even though they were off ketamine.
"There may be a stage where irreversible damage may occur," Cottrell said. "However, little is known about this."
(Amy Norton, Reuters Health, April 2012)
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