Ketamine use can ‘affect brain function and cause seizures’

Five people have died from the drug in Ireland as of late.
Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

09.16 15 Jan 2024

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Ketamine use can ‘affect brain...

Ketamine use can ‘affect brain function and cause seizures’

Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

09.16 15 Jan 2024

Share this article

Ketamine use can damage brain function and cause seizures, a leading addiction specialist has warned.

Dr Garret McGovern has advised people not to take the drug on their own and to “start low and go slow” when using it.

It comes as five people have died from ketamine in Ireland as of late.


An autopsy has also revealed Friends star Matthew Perry had the drug in his system when he died in his LA home last October.

On Newstalk Breakfast today, Dr McGovern described ketamine as a “dissociative anaesthetic that is used in veterinary or human medicine”.

“It’s not used in medicine so much nowadays,” he said.

“The whole idea of it was in medicine to make people less aware of pain and stuff like that – their surroundings.

“It has its advantages as an anaesthetic but it’s been used for quite a while now by recreational drug users because it has sought-after effects.”

2MWM3T3 FILE - In this April 28, 2015, file photo, Matthew Perry arrives at the LA Premiere of "Ride" in Los Angeles. The former "Friends" star appears with Katie Holmes, who reprises her role as Jackie Kennedy in "The Kennedys After Camelot,? which premieres on the Reelz channel on April 2. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP, File) Matthew Perry arrives at the LA Premiere of 'Ride' on 28-4-2015. Image: Associated Press/Alamy

Dr McGovern said people enjoy certain properties the drug has.

“In low doses, it causes stimulant-like effects and can also cause psychedelic-like effects,” he said.

“People can get hallucinations and feel an out-of-body experience which people seem to like.

“Unfortunately, it does have side effects which is where the big worry is.”

Side effects

Ketamine can impact bladder and brain function, according to Dr McGovern.

“It can affect cognition and cause seizures,” he said.

“It can also have awful effects on the bladder and sometimes result in renal or kidney failure.

“The risk you take on its own is fairly low but it’s been increasingly used with other drugs like cocaine and alcohol.”

Dr McGovern said the HSE are “creating as much awareness as they can” about the drug through its nightlife programme.

“I think people need to understand that they are taking these drugs without knowing what they are getting,” he said.

“Ketamine is also found as a component in other drugs like MDMA and cocaine too and I think people need to be very very aware of what they’re doing.”


Dr McGovern said anyone using ketamine should follow the recommended advice.

“The general advice from the HSE, at festivals and things like that, is for people to start low and go slow," he said.

“You shouldn’t be on your own either, and all that sensible stuff we would tell people to do.

“We’re seeing more of it in treatment circles now when we wouldn’t have seen it at all ten years ago.”

Dr McGovern added that “without a shadow of a doubt” use of the drug has been on the increase in recent years.

Main image: Ketamine in powdered form. Image: Joe Bird / Alamy Stock Photo

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