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Ketamine and bladder damage

The drug ketamine, known among recreational drug users as "special K", “Ket“ or “Vitamin K” is used in both human and veterinary medicine. In humans, ketamine has been employed for both analgesia or anesthesia, and has been successfully used to treat depression in patients with bipolar mood disorder.

Ketamine abusers who seek the mind-expanding and visual hallucinations of ‘entering the k-hole’, however may have to face serious problems with urinating such as urinary frequency, urgency, pressure, pain, incontinence and/or bleeding from the bladder that can lead to ulcers, stiffening of the bladder walls, shrinkage, and possible irreversible bladder damage.

The first reports that linked ketamine use and bladder problems surfaced in Canada and Hong Kong in 2007, with users reported having symptoms consistent with interstitial cystitis and ulcerative cystitis.

Now that the link is well-recognised, urologists and surgeons across the UK say there is a growing number of young people struggling with these severe side effects and some patients conditions are so serious that that they have been forced to have their bladders removed because of the damage done by the drug.

David Gillatt, one of the UK's leading urological surgeons, told Channel 4 News what the drug does: "Ketamine gets into the urine and inflames the bladder, it makes the lining come off like a burn. As it tries to heal itself, it scars and becomes a small shrunken bladder. Some users experience pain in the lower abdomen, blood in their urine and problems controlling their bladders.

Research carried out by the same Dr. Gillatt and published last year in the Journal of the British Association of Urological Surgeons, showed for most users, the initial urinary problems improved when they stopped taking the drug.

At the present it isn’t known how long it takes regular ketamine users to experience the symptoms of bladder damage, some report symptoms just months after regular use, while others report them only after several years.

Urologists in Hong Kong estimate that urinary symptoms can occur in about 30% of ketamine abusers.

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