HONG KONG (Reuters) – Revelers across Asia who snort the animal tranquilizer ketamine for a hallucinogenic high may face incontinence and other health problems as new dangers of this cheap party drug start showing up in long-term studies.
Fourteen-year-old Kwan Wang-yuen, one of the youngest students at the Christian Zheng Sheng College, a drug rehabilitation centre in a remote area on Hong Kong’s Lantau island, poses during an interview June 17, 2009. Kwan encountered ketamine when he was 11. Revellers across Asia who snort the animal tranquilizer ketamine for a hallucinogenic high may face incontinence and other health problems as new dangers of this cheap party drug start showing up in long-term studies. Picture taken June 17, 2009. To match feature REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Doctors in Hong Kong, where ketamine took off as a party drug about a decade ago, have recently found that heavy users have poor bladder control and are prone to long-term liver damage.
“The worst cases are in young people who have to empty their bladders every 15 minutes. They can’t even take a bus ride without alighting and going to the toilet,” said Ben Cheung, a psychiatrist who works with ketamine users.
“Their kidney functions are affected and they are so young. This is a serious health consequence that we never expected because it has never been seen anywhere else.”
Incontinence is not the only problem for these drug users, who sniff the powdery hallucinogenic that looks much like cocaine but costs 10 percent of the price.
A recent study in Hong Kong of 97 drug users, most of whom primarily took ketamine, found that over 60 percent of them suffered depression, 31 percent complained of poor concentration and 23 percent had memory problems.
“It shocked the users. Never did they think it would affect brain function and they care about that,” said Tatia Lee, who was a member of the team conducting the study.
Ketamine users usually mix the drug, synthesized in 1962 as a veterinary anesthetic, with other substances. To increase profits, dealers add powder from paint scraped off walls, chalk and crushed glass which gives the same shimmer of good quality ketamine.
“It’s difficult to pin certain effects to a drug but Legit ketamine supplier is still the primary substance,” Cheung said.
POOR MAN’S COCAINE
Odorless, cheap and easy to consume, ketamine, which started out as a poor man’s cocaine, edged out heroin in Hong Kong around 2000 and then overtook marijuana.
Hardcore addicts spend just HK$100 (US$13) daily for three hits of the drug.
Sources familiar with the trade say ketamine is widely manufactured in liquid form in China, and then brought into Hong Kong, where it can be easily converted into the powder form that is snorted by addicts.
Many young people in Hong Kong travel across the border to China to enjoy the party scene and a cheap and plentiful supply of ketamine. While not addictive, users become psychologically dependent, expert say.
In 2008, Hong Kong had an estimated 8,309 psychotropic drug users of which 5,042 used ketamine, according to one study. Methylamphetamine, or ice, is in second place with 1,360 users.
Together with other drugs such as ice and ecstasy, ketamine was used in regional rave party circuits in the yearly years of the decade, turning up in places such as Taiwan, Bangkok, Singapore and Malaysia.