How long does ketamine stay in your system?

Kate West AlphaBiolabs

By Kate West, Senior Toxicology Reporting Scientist at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 05/19/2023

As an accredited laboratory offering peace of mind home drug tests, we are often asked how certain drugs affect the body, and how long they can remain in your system.

While not as commonly used as marijuana or cocaine, there is evidence to suggest that ketamine – an anesthetic used to treat people and animals – has grown in popularity among recreational drug users in recent years.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health (2021) titled, Trends in Ketamine Use, Exposures and Seizures in the United States up to 2019, found that the rate of ketamine seizures by law enforcement has risen significantly since 2012, which can be attributed in part to more people using the drug in non-medical settings, such as nightclubs.

In this article, we take a closer look at ketamine, what it is, how it affects the body and how to spot the signs of someone who might be misusing ketamine.

What happens in the body when you take drugs?

When a person consumes drugs, they are broken down by the liver, and a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream.

Some of the drug and its metabolites can then be detected in the body in different ways including via sweat, urine, saliva, hair and nails.

In the case of hair and nails, a proportion of the drug and its metabolites travel to the blood vessels in the hair follicles and nail bed.

Substances then become trapped in the hair shaft (medulla) and the keratin fibres of the nails, remaining in hair and nails as they grow, and making it possible to determine whether someone has consumed drugs, using hair and/or nail testing.

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What is ketamine?

Ketamine, also known as Special K, is an anesthetic used by veterinarians as an animal tranquiliser. It is also used by medical professionals to provide pain relief to patients.

Often sold as a clear liquid or an off-white powder, it is popular among habitual drug users, and is often ingested by snorting, smoking, or injecting.

Ketamine is classed as a Schedule III non-narcotic substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it is considered to carry a lower risk of abuse and dependence compared with Schedule I and Schedule II substances (e.g. heroin, marijuana and cocaine).

Although penalties for the possession, sale and manufacture of controlled substances vary from state to state, they can include anything from fines of $1,000 or more, to jail time and/or community service, depending on the criminal record of the individual, and the seriousness of the offence.

What does ketamine do to you?

It’s important to remember that drugs affect different people in different ways, so not everybody will have the same experience while using the same substances. Drugs can even affect the same person differently when taken at a different time.

How a person’s body reacts to ketamine use depends on many factors including body mass, metabolism, how much they take, and how often they use it.

Because ketamine is an anesthetic, one of the greatest risks of ketamine use is the fact that it can reduce the sensations in your body.

This means that if a person injures themselves while using ketamine, they may not know it, which can be dangerous.

Low doses have been known to cause dizziness, euphoria, and confusion, while higher doses can cause nausea, hallucinations, difficulty standing or moving, and a feeling of disconnection between the body and mind.

Read more about Uppers and Downers

How long does ketamine stay in your system?

When a person uses ketamine, a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream, with a small amount being excreted by the body in a variety of ways.

How long ketamine remains in a person’s system depends on how much they have taken and how often they use it, along with their weight and metabolism.

Related: How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

What factors affect how long ketamine stays in your system?

Factors that affect how long ketamine stays in your system include:

  • Quantities taken
  • Frequency of use
  • Metabolism and weight
  • Method used to ingest the drug – for example, whether it has been snorted, swallowed or injected

How long does it take for ketamine to show up in a drug test?

Ketamine use can be detected by a drug test long after the effects of the drug have worn off.

This is because, once the body has broken down the drug, a small amount of the drug and its metabolites remain in the system, before being eliminated from the body in a variety of ways.

For oral fluid (saliva) drug tests, ketamine remains detectable 24-48 hours after use, while urine drug tests provide a detection window of up to four days.

The rate at which head hair grows means that head hair drug tests provide a wide window of detection for ketamine use, making it possible to detect metabolites in the hair for up to 12 months of continuous use, depending on the length of the hair.

Similarly, nail drug testing can be used to provide an overview of up to 12 months for drug use (six months for fingernails and 12 months for toenails).

Is ketamine addictive?

Ketamine is an anesthetic used as an animal tranquiliser in veterinary settings, as well as by doctors providing pain relief to patients.

Because of its use in anesthesia, the effects of ketamine – which can include a numbing feeling and hallucinations, depending on how much is taken – can be extremely addictive.

Worse still, individuals who use ketamine regularly can quickly build up a tolerance, meaning that even more of the drug is required to get the same ‘high’.

This can lead to the user developing a harmful addiction.

What are the long-term effects of ketamine use?

Although its physiological effects only last from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much the person has taken, ketamine can cause several long-term physical and psychological problems if it is used regularly.

Long-term effects of ketamine can include:

  • Liver and/or kidney damage
  • Impaired sense of smell and/or damage to the nasal cavity (if snorted)
  • Damage to the veins, muscles, and skin (if injected)
  • Urinary tract and/or bladder problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss

What are the signs of ketamine addiction?

Ketamine addiction can take many forms, and symptoms vary wildly from person-to-person.

However, there are some common signs you can look out for if you suspect a friend or family member might be struggling with ketamine addiction.

These include:

  • Regular use, especially on a day-to-day basis
  • Feeling unable to stop taking ketamine, even though it is affecting their life
  • Spending an increasing amount of time seeking out and using ketamine
  • Being secretive or defensive about their ketamine use
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities including relationships, family, and work
  • Behavioral changes including mood swings

There are many helpful resources online for individuals struggling with ketamine addiction, as well as for friends and family members affected by a loved one’s ketamine use.


How can I find out if a friend or family member is using ketamine?

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of easy-to-use, home drug tests, designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a friend or loved one who has been abusing drugs.

Simply choose our Home Drug & Alcohol Nail Test (from $99) or our Home Urine Drug Test Kit ($34.95 for a pack of three) and order your test online now.

If you have a question or would like advice on which test is best for you, you can also email or use our live chat to speak to a support specialist.

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court.



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Kate West AlphaBiolabs

Kate West

Senior Toxicology Reporting Scientist at AlphaBiolabs
A highly qualified and respected Senior Toxicology Reporting Scientist, Kate joined AlphaBiolabs in 2018, bringing a wealth of experience from a background in forensic science. A specialist in the examination of biological samples, Kate’s main responsibilities include writing technical reports for legally-instructed drug and alcohol tests, and mentoring and training other members of the Toxicology Reporting team. Kate holds an MS degree in Forensic Toxicology by Research and a BS degree in Biomedical Science. She has also been called upon to give evidence in court, reporting on complex child welfare cases.


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