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Matthew Perry’s passing puts spotlight on Ketamine use

The tragic passing of Friends actor Matthew Perry has just been linked to ketamine, a dissociative drug first developed in the 1960s. Here’s why the drug has risen in popularity in recent years, both for recreational and medicinal purposes.  

It has been nearly two months since the shocking Hollywood loss that sent the world– Friends fans and all– into mourning

Now, the public has finally gained access to the late Matthew Perry’s coronary report, a document explaining once and for all what caused the star’s unfortunate demise. Sadly, the information uncovered has only further fuelled the spirit of inquiry, leaving Perry’s fans and loved ones across the globe searching for answers yet again. 

As the report states, the beloved actor’s drowning incident has been attributed to a lethal combination of several factors, such as coronary artery disease, the presence of buprenorphine (a prescribed opioid medicine) and the ‘acute effects of ketamine’. 

Known for its widespread recreational use, ketamine and various iterations of the drug have recently gained traction in the medical community, being used as a treatment method for a variety of conditions. Here’s why the drug played such a significant role in Perry’s accidental death.

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What does ketamine do?

Ketamine was first developed in the sixties as an anaesthetic and pain relief drug, purposes still currently being embraced by veterinarians and medical practitioners. But today, the prevalence of ketamine usage across the globe goes far beyond the operating table. 

In recent years, the upsurge of recreational ketamine use has seen partygoers embrace the ‘dreamlike’ effects of the drug, despite obtaining unprescribed dosages through illegal means.

For a drug that is colloquially known as ‘horse tranquilliser’, the list of intense physiological effects should hardly come as a surprise to most. When taken recreationally, the drug has been known to promote a relaxed or detached state between mind and body, lower sensitivity to pain and visual and auditory hallucinations.

The unwanted– and invariably dangerous– side effects associated with ketamine use include nausea and vomiting, dizziness, an increased heartbeat, and difficulty moving.

Like many illegal compounds sold for recreational use, it can be almost impossible to know exactly what is mixed in with the drug, potentially increasing the risk of unwanted side effects and overdosing. 

The rise of recreational ketamine use

According to statistics provided by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the age group most embracing the recreational use of the drug is young Aussies in their 20s, with the COVID-19 lockdowns throughout 2020 to 2021 contributing to a 21 per cent rise of ketamine usage alone. 

Several factors are feeding into the steady rise of recreational ketamine use, such as its greater availability and significantly lower cost in comparison to other drugs. 

Taking inspiration from its application in the medical community, Ketamine has also become a popular method of self-medication, with users taking the drug to address anxiety and depression.

In the case of Perry’s accidental death, the coronary report suggests the lethal traces of ketamine found in the actor’s system were likely a result of recreational use, despite his known participation in ketamine infusion therapy. 

Given the drug’s half-life of three to four hours, his most recent medical infusion (one and a half weeks prior) could not possibly have still been in his system. 

What is ketamine infusion therapy?

As a self-professed recovering addict, Perry claims to have been sober for 19 months, having embraced the benefits of supervised ketamine infusion therapy throughout his pursuit of recovery. 

Given the drug’s known effects, it has been widely popularised in the medical community as a treatment to manage mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and addiction. Following a thorough psychiatric evaluation and referral, the treatments can be recommended to patients who have not responded to antidepressant medication or other treatments.

According to the Black Dog Institute, a low dose of the substance will be injected into the skin (or administered intranasally) during a ketamine infusion therapy session designed to combat depression. 

However, like any treatment plan, each patient’s response to the drug will vary, with no medical practitioner able to guarantee the avoidance of unwanted side effects or the longevity of the drug’s benefits.

Find more information on the side effects and risks associated with ketamine use here.  

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