History of Ketamine
Ketamine was developed in 1962 as an anesthetic to replace PCP (phencyclidine). It was first synthesized by Calvin Stevens of Parke-Davis, Michigan—once the largest pharmaceutical company in the US. Initially known as CI-581, the drug was tested on human prisoners in 1964 and the term “dissociative anesthetic” was coined to describe its effects
Recreational use began around 1965 and became internationally prevalent by the mid-1970s. During this period, psychedelic researchers such as John C. Lilly, Marcia Moore, Stanislav Grof, and D. M. Turner were exploring ketamine’s psychotherapeutic potential. It was also being used by Vietnam veterans with PTSD, having been the field anesthetic of choice during the war. Lilly referred to the drug as “Vitamin K” and once took it for 100 days straight; Grof found it useful and integrative for therapy with LSD.
In the 1980s, ketamine’s popularity shifted to the rave culture of Ibiza and Goa. It was often encountered as a cheaper alternative to another up-and-coming “club drug,” MDMA.
In 1981, the DEA filed a notice of intention to place ketamine in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act,, but evidence of actual abuse was too scarce to support the designation. In 1995, the drug was added to the agency’s “emerging drugs list” and finally labeled Schedule III in 1999, making it illegal to possess without a prescription. As a result, it was commonly stolen from hospitals or smuggled from overseas.
According to the 2016 Global Drug Survey of roughly 100,000 self-selected respondents who use (mostly illicit) psychoactive substances, ketamine was among the top ten used worldwide. It had a global past-year prevalence of 6.72%—compared with 11.75% for psilocybin and 12.89% for LSD.
In 2006, people between the ages of 18 and 25 comprised the age group most likely to use ketamine in the US, at a rate comparable to PCP. An estimated 2.3 million people aged 12 or older had used ketamine at least once in their lifetimes, and around 203,000 had used it in the past year. Between 2000 and 2011, the rate of ketamine use among US high school students steadily declined, never reaching more than 2.6%.
Ketamine is reported to be around five times more prevalent in the UK, where 2013 statistics highlight a similar age bracket—20-24-year-olds—as the most likely group to use it. It has also been identified as one of the most likely drugs to be used in combination, with around 50% of UK users mixing it—often with alcohol.
In China, one of the drug’s major manufacturing centers, ketamine has seen a dramatic rise in popularity. In part, this is due to its low production cost.