Do you have difficulty remembering a phone number after someone has given it to you? You’ve just had an address given to you over the phone and forgotten it as soon as you put it down. For most people this is simply a sign of getting older, your memory starts to play tricks on you and things just aren’t as clear as they once were. However, if you’re a regular ketamine user, the answer might not be that simple. New research has indicated that there may be long-lasting effects on memory for regular ketamine users.

Ketamine, or Special K as it is better known on the street, has become increasingly popular over the past few years. It would appear that one reason for this is that the quality of the drug appears to be relatively constant compared to other drugs such as ecstasy.

Over the years many people have asked me what is known about the long-term effects of the drug. Surely a drug which is as powerful as Special K must be doing some major damage to the brain? There has been extensive research carried out on ketamine, primarily in the clinical setting. However, it needs to be emphasised this research does not investigate the recreational use of the drug, which usually involves regular use.

When used for medical purposes ketamine is administered for a specific purpose and although the reaction to the drug varies widely from person to person it does not appear to produce any known permanent neurological or physiological impairment. However, a recent study looking at a three-year follow-up of ketamine users who have substantially reduced their use of the drug now suggests otherwise.

A sample of ketamine users who had been involved with studies conducted three and four years earlier were re-tested on a whole range of measures which examined memory and cognitive functioning. All the users had reduced their frequency of use quite dramatically. On tasks which looked at episodic memory, ketamine users still showed deficits compared to a control group. Episodic memory, or autobiographical memory, is the explicit memory of events (e.g. remembering the last wedding you went to). It includes time, place, and associated emotions. Episodic memories have some similarities to written stories.

So what does this mean for ketamine users and how will it affect their lives? We have long known that, in the short-term, ketamine affects memory. Many users comment on the couple of days after use as being a time when they feel a little vague and we usually put this down to the residual effects of the drug. Now we have some evidence that this effect may continue even if you reduce or, for some people in this study, cease ketamine use.

Memory is an important thing -“ as we get older many of us will slowly lose some of our capacity to remember things we used to. This is a risk associated with ketamine that many of us should really consider before the next bump.

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