HORSE tranquiliser ketamine is now the drug of choice for 18-30 year olds in Britain as it floods into south coast towns and cities.
New BBC documentary series Drugs Map of Britain reveals in episode two how its popularity has grown from being a popular party drug in the early Noughties to a self-medicating tool for adolescents dealing with mental and physical health problems.
One young user, Matt, who lives in supported housing in Plymouth, reveals: “I’ve had bouts of anxiety and depression for a number of years… which has gone on to a psychosis.
“I take prescribed medication, but nothing helps me as much as the K. It’s a be-all and cure-all. Like a panacea-type thing.”
As mental health services are stretched thin and there are long waiting lists, youngsters are turning to ketamine instead.
The dissociative nature of the drug proves appealing to the users, as “once you go into a K hole, it’s like falling out of your body”, adds Matt, who began using aged 15.
The shocking programme goes undercover to speak to and follow several ketamine dealers and addicts living in Dorset, Cornwall and London to reveal how the drug is taking over their lives, destroying them from the inside out.
London-based Charis, who began using aged 17 as a “coping mechanism”, admits to sniffing as much as seven grams of ketamine a day.
It takes just one gram for vets to anaesthetise a horse, and a lethal dose of ketamine is estimated to be about 4.2 grams, or 4,200 milligrams, for a person weighing around 11st.
She has spent the majority of her adolescent life in psychiatric intensive care units due to a traumatising upbringing.
Charis says ketamine has helped her “cope with being in the outside world” and combats her anxiety. But she has been left with extreme bladder damage from over-using ketamine.
Ketamine use has doubled among 16 to 24 year olds in the last 10 years; in Devon alone, a local drug and alcohol service saw a 53 per cent rise in young adults using ketamine in the last year.
Matt says: “Most of my friends sniff K. I’d be hard pressed to find ones that don’t.”
It is much cheaper than other popular drugs like cocaine, and the doc reveals dealers discreetly sell the drugs by hiding them in fake beer cans that can be screwed open.
In one scene a dealer takes 40 grams into a music festival to sell, hiding them in the fake can amongst several real ones and gets through security no problem.
He expected to make more than £1,000 from revellers looking for a high.
Ketamine is categorised as a class B drug – the same level as cannabis and codeine – and the maximum penalty for dealing is 14 years in prison.
Many get involved in the drug from a young age, addicted to the high, but everyone interviewed also talk about the horrific side-effects of the drug.
These include “p*****g out jelly and blood” and severe stomach cramps. Some, like Charis, have even been catheterised due to excessive use.
Ketamine-induced urinary symptoms occur in one in four patients who use the drug recreationally.
“It’s fun, but not one to f*** around with,” warns Matt. “If I carry on using every day, it’s going to ruin my bladder.
“I don’t want to be p*****g into a bag. That’s not what I’ve got planned for the rest of my life.”
‘Rots your insides’
Alan, now 39, says he has been doing ketamine since 1999 and takes it “24 hours a day, seven days a week”.
He says he uses it for pain management following a work-related injury, and cooks it up on a disposable BBQ in a park, away from his home and his children.
Alan, who refers to himself as a ketamine connoisseur, admits: “I’m passing things in my urine, I have K-cramps… medical specialists said to me very openly, ketamine rots your insides out.”
He even carries a ‘portable potty’ around with him, admitting he goes to the toilet every 10 minutes.
An English drug charity has seen a 28 per cent increase in young people accessing its mental health service for ketamine-related issues since 2020.
“I’ve been through my GP and admitted to hospital a few times,” admits one interviewee who remains anonymous.
While there are services there, charities warn they’re so stretched that it’s near impossible to get the help you need.
When one dealer is asked if he feels guilty about selling the drug, knowing its effects, he admits he does, “especially to long term users”.
He adds: “But if they weren’t coming to me, chances are they’d go somewhere else.”
There appear to be no signs of ketamine’s widespread use abating.
Matt concedes: “Much like crack in the 1980s, it’s a new drug that’s come along, and it’ll take a while for them to figure out how they can combat the addictions [and get the drugs off the street].”
Drugs Map of Britain is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer now.