HONG KONG (Reuters) - Ketamine, widely abused as a party drug, has been linked to severe bladder and kidney dysfunction in 10 young adults in Hong Kong, doctors said.
Writing in the latest issue of the Hong Kong Medical Journal, the doctors said some of the cases were so severe that the young people could hold only 30 milliliters — or two tablespoons — of urine in their bladders and had to pass water every 15 minutes.
“One went into acute kidney failure and all of them had evidence of liver damage as well,” the doctors from two public hospitals in Hong Kong wrote.
However, as bladder and kidney damage have not been linked to ketamine anywhere in the world before, the researchers said the disorders may be a result of other toxins that “street ketamine” might be contaminated with.
“The authors would like to alert frontline doctors, especially those working in primary care, emergency departments and psychiatry, to this new form of uropathy and its association with ketamine abuse. Early urology referral for comprehensive investigation and management would help combat this new form of urinary tract disease,” they added.
Ketamine is mostly used as a veterinary anesthetic. In humans, it causes hallucinations and high blood pressure.
But it had become widely and illicitly used as a party drug in some parts of the world by the 1990s, and has since been banned or classified as a controlled substance in places like Britain, the United States, Canada and Hong Kong.
The seven men and three women in Hong Kong had used ketamine for between one and four years, and their cases came to light when they sought medical help for their incontinence from 2000 to 2007. They have a mean age of 25.
Their early morning urine samples tested negative for acid-fast bacteria, but urine and blood samples taken from some of them tested positive for ketamine and benzodiazepam — a common sedative-hypnotic drug.
One of them, who identified himself only as “Ah Tsai”, spoke of his experience on Hong Kong’s Cable Television.
“Even to make a short subway trip (of 15 minutes), I would have to go to the bathroom very urgently as my bladder would be bloated and painful. But the amount of urine I pass out would be very little,” he said, with his back to the camera.
All 10 people are being treated.
However, the researchers added that no association has ever been reported between “street ketamine” and bladder or renal impairment and they urged for more research to be done.
“Ketamine abusers are likely to be exposed to other drugs and chemicals either purposefully added as a cutting agent or being co-abused in a soft drug cocktail,” they wrote.