Can Someone Explain the Appeal of Ketamine?
The drug is undergoing something of a student-led renaissance, but why?
I know, I know, a few months back now I proclaimed, in this esteemed organ no less, that cocaine is the shittest drug. I don't know what my cup of organic fennel tea had been laced with that morning but I've been kicking myself ever since. Yes, coke is a heinous, draining, boring thing, a drug for all the latent and not so latent narcissists out there, a means of turning five minutes of quick small talk about work into five solid hours of grinding soliloquy, but there is something worse. And that something is ketamine.
Ketamine, a powerful anaesthetic that's often administered to patients suffering from chronic pain, has taken up residency in the public consciousness as a horse tranquilizer. Maybe it's the horse connection that means the broader population rarely think of it as a recreational drug. Ketamine, with its associations to war zone surgery and large animals that need immediate taming, carries heavy-duty connotations. A nation of parents find themselves reasoning that surely anything that'd have Shergar snoring isn't the kind of thing my son or daughter is bunging up their nostrils on a Friday night.
Mum, dad, take a deep breath: Matthew and Amber probably spent most of their weekend wondering exactly why their hands had swollen to the size of bowling balls and felt like molten lava. They're sitting in the university library right now trying to battle on with Active Intolerance: Michel Foucault, the Prisons Information Group, and the Future of Abolition, but are stuck on the first page. They've been reading it for two hours now and they'll still be there, on the same page, six down the line. The rest of the week will melt into the usual haze of tinnies, rollies, and bite size pasties, and next thing you know, your little smashers will be moonwalking around a club dipping their front door key into a sachet of Special K.
Drugs have their milieu, their user base, and ketamine is very much for students. The word itself conjures up images of dismal slabs of cheap MDF layered with an inch-thick coating of waterlogged rolling papers, puffy filters, and clumps of tatty Cutter's Choice that dominate every lounge in every student house in the land like a poorly maintained tombstone. I see the table, I can smell spilled beer and musty clothes, and I can hear the sound of line after line being snorted. And I feel a bit sick.
Maybe because I am now a shrunken old man, rapidly headed for my doddery dotage, but the recent reification of ketamine amongst the country's student population doesn't sit well. In a recent study carried out by The Tab, it was revealed that ketamine use is on the up, with a staggering 59% of students at the University of Manchester regularly indulging in a drug that either makes you feel like you've necked two cans of K Cider in very quick succession or sends you into a psychedelic state in which total dissociation is an all too real possibility. Perhaps that city's students, no doubt spurred on by the burgeoning house party scene, could take a leaf out of the good folks over at Warwick, of whom only 17% have experience with ketamine. They're probably too busy chewing on the chip on their shoulder over not getting into Oxbridge to go K-crazy but still, good on them for eschewing one of the more worrying drug-related trends of the last few years.
Rightly or wrongly drug taking is an integral part of the social experience many students have at university, so it isn't the taking itself that worries, it's what they're whacking up their nostrils and where that is cause for concern. And that concern has a few facets.
The first is simple: ketamine just isn't fun in any shape or form. You don't get the shuddering rush of a pill, the heatsick wooze of a joint, or even the wooly warmth that comes with sinking three pints of Adnam's Ghost Ship too many. Ketamine simply doesn't "work" in a nightclub environment. There's a reason why dubstep died and only about three people in Bristol give a toss about it any more, and that reason is ketamine. The fact that dubstep quite rapidly became about as exciting and enjoyable as watching every episode of A Question of Sport ever broadcast back to back is largely irrelevant.
Who wants to be on a night out surrounded by blokes who look like arthritic extras in Dawn of the Dead semi-skanking around the place, stumbling into bass-bins, trying to roll fags out of dock leaves and gravel, talking to themselves about the nanny state? No thanks—I'll stick to beer-breathed buggers elbowing their way through hordes of spangled sods desperately buttoning and unbuttoning their shirts as a means of staving off a heart attack. That is what clubbing is all about!
Then there's something strange about the way ketamine is currently thought of, and reported on. Ketamine, a drug that can send users into truly terrifying places and is, when consumed in the wrong quantities, fatal, has become a kind of narcotic version of the cheeky house scene. It's adoption by the nation's gruesome and grey sesh gremlins—the nihilistic lounge-dwellers who prop up the UK's GDP through Holsten Pils and Snyders pretzel sales alone—has seen it transmute from a dubstep fan's delight to a drug that gets pounded before, during, and after a Kink set at the Warehouse Project.
For reasons that I can't quite wrap my head around, ketamine has taken on a kind of jokey atmosphere, become a carnivalesque addition to the contemporary hellscape that is the-sesh-as-life. It is an accoutrement as visible as Palace snapbacks and VOTE LABOUR posters, a prop for your cousin's Instagram account, a sachet of gritty banter that slips down as easily as a Unilad post.
Perhaps there's rational explanations as to why this singularly unappealing, unpleasant drug, has become the narcotic of choice for a generation who've slowly begun to accept their own obsolescence. It doesn't have the arrogant twang of coke or the world-melt of LSD, and as such it furthers a sense of sinking resignation—until you take that biiiiit too much and suddenly you've forgotten who you are, where you are, and what being, on any level at all, is.
Which might be a good thing when you realise you've squandered another weekend, and the sun starts to rise over another grubby flat in another grubby town, and all you've got to show for it is three likes on Facebook and the distinct memory of doing something utterly, utterly terrible but not ever being able to recall exactly what that was.
Josh is on Twitter