The Rise and Rise of Ketamine

Shaking off its reputation as a nasty club drug, K is being shown to have instant success treating depression

Zoe Cormier
Published in
7 min readDec 21, 2018


Photo by Thư Anh on Unsplash

I was first introduced to ketamine’s exploding popularity at the incomparable Glastonbury Music Festival in June 2003. This was my first summer in the U.K. (I grew up in Toronto—painfully wholesome by comparison.) On the hectic festival party scene, K was the new kid on the block — exotic, potent, and more than a little odd. Ecstasy had been the drug of choice in the ’90s, LSD felt like a relic from the ’60s, and mushrooms were as old as the hills. But in K, drug enthusiasts in search of something wonky and intense felt they had found the ideal high.

By 2007, K was widespread, in part because it was so cheap. One gram of K could cost as little as $6, compared to $25 to $50 for a gram of MDMA or $60 to $125 for cocaine. I frequently went to student house parties where liters of liquid K were cooking away on the kitchen stove.

Most people know that ketamine is a medical anesthetic, but you might not know it is considered so important that the World Health Organization includes ketamine on its List of Essential Medicines. It doesn’t require the oxygen or electricity supply that other anesthetics need, and it doesn’t pose the risk of respiratory suppression, making ketamine an ideal painkiller to be carried in ambulances. It is the only anesthetic available in many developing countries.

Yet ketamine’s importance in the history of medicine has been overshadowed by its reputation as the club drug K, ket, Special K, horse tranquilizer, the “Marmite of drugs” (meaning you love it or you hate it), and my personal favorite, “regretamine.”

The high is neither up nor down, but sideways. Take enough of it and you’ll descend into a “K hole” — a 15-minute dive into another dimension where you are completely divorced from yourself in space and time. That physical and psychological dissociation is exactly what people either love or hate about it.

Ketamine is considered to be the only addictive psychedelic, which means people who get into snorting it in a serious way can escalate their usage to three, five, even 10 grams a day. Ketamine has a high tolerance profile, which means users…