Thursday, October 21, 2010
Does Ketamine Cause Bladder Damage?
Special K and Cystitis.
Normally, Addiction Inbox steers clear of alarmist stories about drug use. A lifetime of wildly overstated verbiage about “false drugs,” as the Firesign Theatre comedy group once delightfully phrased it, has left me wary of drug scare stories. Even obvious cases, like Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and crack babies, are more nuanced problems than most coverage has alleged.
For years now, rumors about bladder problems in recreational users of ketamine have periodically surfaced. These stories go all the way back to the adventures of Dr. John Lilly, famous for dolphin research, as well as sensory deprivation experiments with LSD, ketamine, and other drugs (wildly overdramatized in the movie, “Altered States”). According to hipster lore, Lilly went through a long period of hourly ketamine ingestion in the 1970s, and ended his days in adult diapers, having lost control of his bladder due to ketamine damage.
To the best of my knowledge, this story has never been officially confirmed. But in the last two years, research has surfaced that tends to bolster the Lilly anecdote. What is disturbing is that today, unlike 40 years ago, ketamine has become a fairly common party drug among young users. The drug technically produces a state of “dissociative anesthesia.” Treated like a hallucinogen, ketamine was originally a tranquilizer used in veterinary medicine. In 1970, the FDA approved the use of ketamine for humans for the maintenance of anesthesia.
The journey from horse tranquilizer to party drug has eluded drug researchers until quite recently. However, in early 2008, researchers sat up and took notice of a report published in BJU International, a urology journal. “The destruction of the lower urinary tract by ketamine abuse: a new syndrome?”
The report details the discovery by physicians in Hong Kong of 59 ketamine abusers who had been admitted to urology units in local hospitals from 2000 to 2007. Interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome, can vary from mild to severe, and its cause is often not known. Symptoms include painful, frequent, or urgent urination. The researchers found that 71 % of the patients “showed various degrees of epithelial inflammation similar to that seen in chronic interstitial cystitis. All of 12 available bladder biopsies had histological features resembling those of interstitial cystitis.”
The authors conclude that “secondary renal damage can occur in severe cases, which might be irreversible, rendering patients dependent on dialysis.”
Scary stuff. If this were the only study available, it would be tempting to question the results. As it turns out, the Hong Kong study was neither the first nor the last. What is believed to be the first official report of the problem appeared in 2007 in Urology, documenting the case of nine Canadian ketamine users with bladder complications. The authors, affiliated with the University of Toronto, conclude: “As illicit ketamine becomes more easily available, ulcerative cystitis and potential long-term bladder sequelae related to its use may be a more prevalent problem confronting urologists.”
This year, similar reports from Bristol in the UK were published in Clinical Radiology. Researchers with the National Health Service and the Bristol Royal Infirmary discovered “a series of 23 patients, all with a history of ketamine abuse, who presented with severe lower urinary tract symptoms.” Various imaging techniques revealed smaller bladder volume, bladder wall thickening, inflammation, urethral strictures, and other bladder pathologies. The patients all reported symptoms similar to those reported by the earlier Hong Kong ketamine users.
The report concludes that “many users are well aware, but are often not forthcoming with this information.” They also maintain that “the key to the effective management of ketamine-induced bladder pathology is early diagnosis.”
Frequent recreational use of ketamine appears ill advised until more research can confirm the true scope of the problem.
Chu, P., Ma, W., Wong, S., Chu, R., Cheng, C., Wong, S., Tse, J., Lau, F., Yiu, M., & Man, C. (2008). The destruction of the lower urinary tract by ketamine abuse: a new syndrome? BJU International, 102 (11), 1616-1622 DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2008.07920.x
Mason K, Cottrell AM, Corrigan AG, Gillatt DA, & Mitchelmore AE (2010). Ketamine-associated lower urinary tract destruction: a new radiological challenge. Clinical radiology, 65 (10), 795-800 PMID: 20797465
Graphics Credit: http://theintelhub.com/