Actor Matthew Perry died of Ketamine overdose: How harmful is this drug? Here’s all you need to know

As a therapeutic and controlled intervention, it is safe. The risk is only with unauthorised use, says Dr Shaunak Ajinkya, Consultant, Psychiatrist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai.

Reports indicate that Friends star Matthew Perry passed away due to the “acute effects” of ketamine, a drug commonly used in anesthesia and certain antidepressants. While ketamine is known for its medical applications, individuals involved in substance abuse sometimes use it as a psychedelic party drug.

Perry had been undergoing ketamine infusion therapy for depression, with sessions every other day for a period. However, he had reduced his intake, and his last known infusion was a week-and-a-half before his death. The Los Angeles County medical examiner suggested that a potential ketamine overdose led to “cardiovascular overstimulation and respiratory depression,” particularly complicated by Perry’s pre-existing conditions of diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Dr. Shaunak Ajinkya, a Consultant Psychiatrist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai, emphasized that ketamine is tightly controlled in India, classified as a Schedule X drug, and its therapeutic use is considered safe when monitored by a prescribing doctor.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine, synthesized by American chemist Calvin L Stevens in 1962, initially served as an animal and human anesthetic. Derived from the hallucinogenic drug Phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine blocks the NMDA receptor in the brain and spinal cord, increasing the neurotransmitter glutamate. Initially used in pain management, ketamine emerged as a promising treatment for severe depression due to its euphoric effects.

Prone to Substance Abuse

Ketamine’s “dissociative” effect induces hallucinations, creating a euphoric state known as a “K-hole.” Its clear liquid form and ease of detection make it susceptible to abuse. Originally used as an anesthetic, ketamine later became associated with date rape, and now it is available in nasal spray form.

Impact of Ketamine Overdose on Organs

Ketamine, as a relaxant, can complicate breathing, leading to shallow breaths and lung collapse. This places additional strain on the heart, accelerating heart rate and blood pressure. The drug is toxic to the urinary bladder and liver. Unregulated high doses may lead to schizophrenia and drug dependence. Fatalities are more likely when ketamine is combined with alcohol, potentially contributing to Perry’s case.

Ketamine’s Effectiveness in Depression

In 2006, National Institutes of Health researchers discovered that intravenous ketamine could rapidly alleviate severe depression. In 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a nasal spray as the first antidepressant based on ketamine.

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