Ketamine: an overview of its long-term effects on mental and physical health

First published: 29/03/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

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Professor Val Curran

Professor of Psychopharmacology

Val Curran is founder and director of UCL’s Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit.   For 25 years she has been researching the psychological effects of drugs that act on the human brain. Her research currently concerns: 1) the short- and long-term effects of ‘recreational’ drugs – MDMA, cannabis, stimulants and ketamine –  on cognition, emotion and the brain; 2) transitions from substance use to misuse to addiction to recovery and relapse; 3) differential effects of cannabinoids on cognitive, emotional and dependence-related processing.  Val was an undergraduate at Cambridge, completed her PhD at London University and is a qualified Clinical Psychologist. She worked at the Institute of Psychiatry from 1984-1995 and since then has been at UCL. She has been a Principal Editor of the journal Psychopharmacology since 2003.  Val has 3 daughters, is a founder member of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs and Research Lead at a NHS Drug Services.


Ketamine: an overview of its long-term effects on mental and physical health


Ketamine is an important medicine in both specialist anaesthesia and pain management. It also has potential in the treatment of depression. At the same time, its use as a recreational drug has spread in many parts of the world. There are now increasing concerns about the harmful physical and psychological consequences of repeated use of this drug. This overview summarises where we are in terms of understanding the physical, psychological and social harms of both acute and chronic ketamine use. A major physical harm is ketamine induced ulcerative cystitis which, although its aetiology is unclear, seems particularly associated with chronic, frequent use of the drug. Frequent, daily use is also associated with neurocognitive impairment and, most robustly, deficits in working and episodic memory.  Many frequent users report trying but failing to stop using ketamine. The implications of these findings are drawn out for treatment of ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis in which interventions from urologists and from addiction specialists should be coordinated.

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Professor Val Curran